Conservative MEPs quit Tory-led group in European Parliament

Two Conservative MEPs have quit the grouping led by the party in the European Parliament.

Julie Girling, who represents South-West England and Gibraltar, and Richard Ashworth (South-East England) left the European Conservatives and Reformists to join the Parliament's largest group the European People's Party, which includes centre-right MEPs from most other EU nations.

The pair were stripped of the ECR whip in October 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.

In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, the two MEPs said the Conservative Party had failed to contact them to explain the decision and had not responded to requests for a meeting.

Declaring themselves "dismayed" by their treatment, they told Mrs May: "We wish to continue to serve the Conservative Party, but find our treatment in the ECR unacceptable and our position untenable.

"It is our wish to continue to serve the Conservative Party and in particular to help the Government to achieve the best possible outcome for the British people in the current negotiations.

"We feel we are best placed to achieve this as part of the European Parliament's biggest political group, which follows a very similar centre-right agenda and is a natural ally to mainstream Conservatism in the UK."

The pair said they aimed to remain part of the Conservative Party in the UK.

David Cameron took Tory MEPs out of the EPP following the 2009 European Parliament elections, affiliating them to the ECR in fulfilment of a pledge made during his leadership campaign in what was widely seen as a bid to attract eurosceptic votes.

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