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Caroline Spelman to step down at next election after months of Brexit abuse

Former Conservative Party chairman Ms Spelman said the last six months had been ‘extremely difficult’ for her and her staff.

Caroline Spelman (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)
Caroline Spelman (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

By Richard Vernalls, PA

Conservative MP Caroline Spelman has announced she is standing down at the next election after months of abuse and death threats against herself, her family and staff over Brexit.

Ms Spelman, 61, the MP for Meriden, said the “intensity of abuse arising out of Brexit” crystallised her decision to quit after 22 years, adding “quite frankly, we’ve had enough”.

The former Environment Secretary said she had been the target of the worst abuse since moving an amendment at the start of the year to demonstrate there was no majority in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit.

She said: “Twenty-two years is a long time in politics but I have never experienced anything like the last few years.

“And actually for me the last six months have been extremely difficult.”

Ms Spelman told the PA news agency she had had to wear a “panic button” around her neck.

“You know, it comes to something when you feel afraid to move around the place where you live,” she said.

“But you know, sadly, we know from the tragic death of Jo Cox it can happen.”

Ms Spelman, whose constituency sits in Britain’s automotive heartlands between Birmingham and Coventry, said: “Myself, my family and my staff, have borne an enormous brunt of abuse and I think quite frankly we’ve had enough.

“The anonymity the internet affords allows people to say things which if they said it to your face or they wrote it down, would not be legal.”

She added: “Politicians and journalists together need a vow of responsibility in the language that we use.”

Ms Spelman said she had to consider her frontline staff’s welfare, “so if people ring up with threats to kill, or a string of abuse, who wants to start their Monday morning like that?”

“It wears them down,” she added.

She has also rejected being labelled a Conservative “rebel”, after the party’s chief whip clarified to her that she could vote with her conscience in the House of Commons on Wednesday, supporting a bill opposing a no-deal Brexit.

Ms Spelman, a self-described Tory party “loyalist”, added she would not be joining another party or becoming an independent.

She also backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get a deal with Europe, and said: “He’s confident he can get a deal and I think we’ve got to believe that he’s going to try.”

“My constituents need Boris to succeed in concluding a deal,” she said.

Turning to the resignation of the Prime Minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, as a Government minister, she said: “I think if it’s a family issue, let the Johnsons deal with it.”

Asked how she would vote on Monday’s forthcoming Government motion calling for an election, she said: “I think that we do need a general election to clear the air.

“The question is when, and I think Boris should have the chance and have the time to get a deal.”

Ms Spelman, a former chairman of the Conservative Party, has also spoken up in support of her 21 former party colleagues who had the whip removed after backing Tuesday’s earlier Commons motion to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

Although she herself did not vote to back that motion, she did then vote for the bill the following evening, after a conversation with chief whip MP Mark Spencer.

She said: “It was a bit harsh to be called a rebel.”

“The chief whip graciously said to me ‘this is not a confidence vote Caroline, you may vote with your conscience’,” she added.

She said: “I feel very sorry for my colleagues and I think I need to do all I can to right an injustice.

“As a former party chairman, as I recall the rules, they have the right of appeal and their seats can’t be selected while that goes on.”

Ms Spelman said she had been driven to help avoid no-deal, because of the risk to her constituents, many of whom are employed by car-making giant Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

She added: “I am not an actual rebel but I have been prepared to take the cost of a strong position on a no-deal Brexit.

“Because the evidence from the cabinet office briefing shows the West Midlands is one of the places that will be the worst affected.”

Ms Spelman, who voted every time in favour of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, added: “My constituency voted Leave and I am respectful of that.

“But I believe it is very much in their (my constituents’) interests that we leave with a deal in an orderly fashion.”

Ms Spelman said she had now agreed to serve on the steering committee of the Citizens’ Forum, to be chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is set to start a “process of national reconciliation” on Brexit.

She said: “I am much more of a reconciler than a warmonger.”

PA

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