Tory rebel MEPs stripped of party whip over trade talks block bid
Two rebel Tory MEPs who voted to block moves towards trade talks between the UK and European Union have been stripped of the party whip.
South West MEP Julie Girling and South East MEP Richard Ashworth were suspended from the Conservative Party after supporting a resolution in Strasbourg declaring that "sufficient progress" had not been made in the Brexit talks to move on to discussions on the future relationship between the UK and EU.
The decision to remove the whip was backed by Downing Street in a sign that Theresa May is preparing to get tough with her party over Brexit as the talks move into a crucial phase.
The Prime Minister's attempt to assert her authority comes after a mishap-strewn conference speech and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson setting out his own "red lines" for the Brexit talks.
The whip was removed from the two senior MEPs following consultation between European Parliament Chief Whip Dan Dalton and Downing Street.
Former group leader Mr Ashworth and ex-chief whip Ms Girling backed the non-binding motion, which was passed by 557 votes to 92, with 29 abstentions.
Mr Ashworth insisted his vote had not been an attempt to hinder trade negotiations or block Brexit.
He said: "Time is limited and we urgently need to move on to the trade negotiations.
"However, it is my view that we have not yet made sufficient progress on phase one; and it is my judgment that moving to phase two before adequately completing phase one would ultimately lengthen the negotiation, not shorten it, and would diminish our chances of a successful outcome to our trade negotiations.
"A sound agreement needs to be made on sound foundations, we have made progress but we are not there yet."
Brexit Secretary David Davis has written to Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, calling on him to remove the whip from the 18 Labour MEPs who backed the motion on Tuesday.
He said: "While I would not expect opposition political parties to agree with us all the time about the end state we seek, it is a self-evident part of the national interest to support a discussion about our future relationship with Europe."