British MEPs quit Conservative-led group in European Parliament
Julie Girling has defended her decision to quit the European Parliament’s ECR group.
Julie Girling | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
Both Girling and her colleague Richard Ashworth announced on Wednesday they were leaving the ECR group, dominated by UK Tory MEPs, to join the more centrist EPP group, Parliament’s biggest political grouping.
The pair issued a statement saying the defection would take “immediate effect.”
They said they intended to remain in the Tory party adding “we believe the activities and approach of the EPP will more effectively further the prospects of achieving the best possible future for our constituents.”
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The two MEPs said their constituents’ interests were better served by “being in the biggest and most influential” group which, they pointed out, now contains MEPs from all 28 EU member states.
After the announcement, Girling told this website of the specific reasons for her decision.
She said, “In short, the ECR group is not acting in a consistent way with the manifesto on which they were elected, namely reform from within. When this is coupled with an increasing tendency towards the right of the political spectrum-– particularly following the election of the PSI government in Poland - the better option to represent the constituents of the South West and Gibraltar was to move to a more progressive and effective group.”
She added, “I remain a member of the Conservative party and ideologically centre-right, but will now fight for the best interests of my constituents from within the largest and most influential group in the European Parliament.”
Girling is an MEP for the South West of England and Gibraltar and a member of several key committees, including the environment, public health and food safety, agriculture and rural development and women’s rights and gender equality committees.
Ashworth had fallen foul of the party hierarchy last year for failing to vote for proceeding with trade deal negotiations between the UK and EU.
“I remain a member of the Conservative party and ideologically centre-right, but will now fight for the best interests of my constituents from within the largest and most influential group in the European Parliament” - Julie Girling
He had been suspended from the party last October after supporting a vote in Strasbourg saying not enough progress had been made in the Brexit negotiations.
Ashworth, a former leader of the Conservative group in the European Parliament, backed a resolution declaring that “sufficient progress” had not been made in the Brexit talks to allow discussions on the future relationship between the UK and EU to continue.
The MEP was one of two - along with Girling - to have the whip withdrawn and his suspension underlines tensions within the party over Brexit.
At the time, Ashworth said he was “confused” by the suspension.
“The vote was not about disrupting Brexit and the negotiations. We were asked a technical question about how much progress had been made and the answer for me was not enough. This is nothing to do with Theresa May or the events of last week or obstructing trade negotiations. I am completely relaxed about her position and it is not about keeping her as Prime Minister or removing her.”
Ashworth is a noted Europhile. In June, he said Theresa May’s failure to secure an improved majority did not give her the right to pursue a “hard” Brexit.
Ashworth declined to comment on his move to the EPP group, which is led by German MEP Manfred Weber, who has taken a hard line with the UK over Brexit.
On Thursday, an ECR group spokesperson said, “We regret their decision but are not surprised. They failed to accept the result of the British referendum on EU membership and as a result distanced themselves from their delegation, which eventually saw the whip suspended.”