Tories strip party whip from rebellious MEPs
The Tories have suspended two of their own MEPs from the party after they voted for a motion demanding London do more to meet EU demands in Brexit talks.
"Julie Girling and... Richard Ashworth were suspended from the Conservative Party last night after supporting a resolution... to block Brexit talks moving forward," the party said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May supported the move and a government source said the two had behaved "totally irresponsibly".
"They left the party no choice but to act," said Ashley Fox, leader of the Tory group in the European Parliament, describing the decision of Mr Ashworth and Ms Girling, a former group leader and chief whip respectively, as "extremely regrettable".
Ms Girling, who like Mr Ashworth and Mr Fox opposed Brexit during last year's referendum, defended her decision to vote with the overwhelming majority in Strasbourg on a non-binding resolution that urged EU leaders not to accept London's request for talks on post-Brexit trade without further concessions.
"I did not vote to prevent trade talks," she said, noting she called for such negotiations. However, she said in a statement that it was "patently obvious" that the EU's test of "sufficient progress" on key divorce issues were not yet met.
Her vote, she said, put the interests of her constituents over party discipline and referred to support on the far-right for Britain to walk out without a deal: "I have never agreed to silently acquiesce as our country heads towards a cliff edge," she said, describing that as "wanton economic self-harm".
Mrs May is battling to contain in-fighting over approaches to Brexit and threats to her leadership after an uncertain party conference performance last week.
UK Brexit Secretary David Davis is due back in Brussels this week for further talks.