Justice Minister Phillip Lee Resigns At Human Rights Talk Over Brexit

Justice Minister Phillip Lee Resigns Over Brexit Saying We Need To Be On ‘The Right Side of History’

Justice minister Phillip Lee has resigned from his position, during a keynote speech about the importance of human rights.

Speaking at the Bright Blue annual conference, which looks at how Conservatism can support human rights, the MP shocked colleagues by resigning over the Government’s Brexit policy.

The announcement also came just hours before the vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and take the UK out of the European Union.

In a statement, Lee claimed he would now be able to speak out more freely about the Government’s Brexit negotiations. “If Brexit is worth doing,” he said, “then it is certainly worth doing well.”

Why Did Lee Resign?

Ryan Shorthouse

Image: Bright Blue Director Ryan Shorthouse/ Bright Blue

“We live in interesting times, don’t we?” Lee told the Bright Blue audience ahead of his shock departure. His focus, he explained, was “on the big strategic question. That is, how we advance human rights for the 21st century.”

So it upsets me that the Conservative Party and human rights are rarely connected in public consciousness except in a negative way.

Phillip Lee MP

The Conservatives, Lee argued are the party of figures like the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and the philosopher Edmund Burke who advocated for rights around the globe. “So it upsets me that the Conservative Party and human rights are rarely connected in public consciousness except in a negative way,” he added.

“This is a testing time,” he argued, and the first test was creating a “strong and positive” community after Brexit.

Lee also expressed his concern about finding a balance between human dignity and economic advancement. “Markets have their place,” he said. “[However], if we let our markets decide how people will be governed, people will be treated as commodities.”

Lee also touched on dramatic events in the history of human rights like the abolition of slavery and child labour. Tackling these injustices wasn’t always popular, he argued, but it needed to be done.

The abuse of human rights is a crisis for our time.

Phillip Lee MP

“The abuse of human rights is a crisis for our time,” he told the audience. The country, Lee argued, needs to look beyond its shores to fight injustices, adding that we “cannot bring peace and prosperity with high tech weapons.”

‘Brexit Policy is Detrimental to the People We Are Intended to Serve’

MP Andrew Mitchell
Image: MP Andrew Mitchell by DFID/ flickr.com

Brexit, Lee argued, offers both the nation and the Conservative Party the chance to consider “what sort of country we want to be.” The Conservatives, he continued, “must reclaim the party of Shaftesbury and Disraeli.”

“Let’s make sure we’re on the right side of history,” he told the audience, adding that it would be in the finest Conservative tradition. That means “standing up to those within our own party that want to move away from that path. The evidence shows that Brexit policy is detrimental to the people we are intended to serve.”

Let’s make sure we’re on the right side of history. [That means] standing up to those within our own party that want to move away from that path.

Phillip Lee MP

Negotiations, he contended have been badly rushed. “A choice between bad and worse is not a meaningful choice,” he concluded, before announcing that we could be leaving his post as justice minister. “I feel I must resign as a minister so I can speak out for my country and constituents.”

‘A Product of Turbulent Times’

Image: Wikimedia / Conservative MP Maria Miller

The reactions to Lee’s resignation have ranged from resignation to shock. Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for International Development told RightsInfo reporters: “Well, these are turbulent times for the country and the Conservative party and it is the product of that.”

Maria Miller, fellow Conservative MP and Chair of the Women’s and Equalities Select Committee, said she hadn’t had time to reflect on the resignation.

“I guess he probably resigned because he was not going to vote in accordance with government policy,” she told RightsInfo. “The protocol is then that you resign – as a government minister as ministers are not to vote against government policy’

Bright Blue Director Ryan Shorthouse claimed that Lee’s resignation at the event was unplanned for. “Genuinely, I did not see that coming,” he added.

Additional reporting by Edd Church.

Image: Official portrait of Phillip Lee/ Wikimedia.

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About the Author

Dylan Brethour

Site Editor
Dylan is a freelance journalist and editor living in London. She has an MA in Transnational Studies from University College London. Dylan is interested in how the media can work to support human rights. View all posts by Dylan Brethour.
Justice Minister Phillip Lee Resigns Over Brexit Saying We Need To Be On ‘The Right Side of History’
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