Senior Tory Nick Boles insisted he had “no regrets” after quitting his local Conservative association following a rift over his stance on Brexit.
Mr Boles has been leading efforts to give MPs more say in the handling of the Brexit process and wants a closer Norway-style relationship with Europe after leaving the EU.
He had been facing efforts by local activists in the Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association to dump him as the party’s candidate for the next general election.
Writing in The Times, he expressed pride in the achievements of the cross-party alliance of MPs he helped bring together to campaign for the Commons to be given the opportunity to vote on different Brexit options if Theresa May’s deal is rejected again.
“For some of us this enterprise has exacted a personal and political price,” he said.
“It has unleashed a torrent of vile threats online, especially for the women.
“In my case it has caused the final disintegration of my relationship with my local Conservative association. Although I will remain a Conservative MP until the next election I will not stand for re-election in Grantham and Stamford.
“But I have no regrets. This is how politics must work if we are to bring our divided nation together.
“Men and women of goodwill setting aside party-political differences and co-operating in the national interest.”
Mr Boles used a letter to local party members to say he will stay on as MP and continue to take the Conservative whip at Westminster “if it is offered to me on acceptable terms”.
Chief Whip Julian Smith made clear that Mr Boles was a “valued member of the Conservative parliamentary party which I hope will continue to benefit from his ideas and drive”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, one of the Cabinet ministers who abstained rather than oppose a Commons motion calling for a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out, said Mr Boles’ comments had been “typically thoughtful” and praised him as a “man who influenced the shape of the modern Conservative party and will no doubt continue to do so”.
But a senior official at Mr Boles’ local association said they had been “betrayed” and called on Mr Boles to take the “honourable course” and quit as an MP.
In a letter to members obtained by the BBC, Mr Boles: “While I have consistently argued that Brexit must be delivered, and have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal every time she has brought it to the House of Commons, I am certain that crashing out of the EU without a deal would do great harm to the British people and have done everything in my power to prevent it.”
He said he was disappointed the association executive had tried to force his hand on the issue of fighting the next election, adding: “I have concluded that I am not willing to do what would be necessary to restore a reasonable working relationship with a group of people whose values are so much at odds with my own.”
Councillor Martin Hill, vice president of the local association, said “Nick has been at odds with the local party and the Prime Minister for some time,” and the announcement “does not come as a complete surprise”.
“I understand that it is Mr Boles’ intention to carry on as the MP for Grantham and Stamford until the next general election despite being elected to represent us in Parliament,” he said.
The process of selecting a new candidate would begin on March 28, “or earlier if Mr Boles takes the honourable course and resigns his seat”.
The Grantham and Stamford seat was previously represented by Quentin Davies, who defected to Labour in 2007, and Mr Hill said: “This is very disappointing for us all as once again we have been betrayed by our parliamentary representative.”
Former minister Anna Soubry, who quit to join the Conservatives to join The Independent Group, claimed her former party was being reduced to a “right wing rump”.
She said there were” serious questions to be asked” about the Tory leadership, singling out party chairman Brandon Lewis for “failing to stand up for first class moderate One Nation Tory MPs” like Mr Boles.