February 28, 2018 / 6:48 PM / a year ago

Anti-Brexit MEPs defect from Conservatives' EU group

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Two prominent British Conservative members of the European Parliament quit the Tories’ Brussels group on Wednesday to join the main, pro-EU center-right bloc as Brexit continues to divide Britain’s ruling party.

“The activities and approach of the EPP (European People’s Party) will more effectively further the prospects of achieving the best possible future for our constituents,” Julie Girling and Richard Ashworth said in a statement announcing they had left the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

Both campaigners against Britain’s decision to leave the European Union next year, their decision reflected divisions in the Brussels Conservative ranks that have persisted since former leader David Cameron pulled the party out of the EPP in 2009.

Cameron complained that the EPP under leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then French president Nicolas Sarkozy had failed to heed British calls for reform of the EU. Some Cameron critics argued that his quitting the EPP left him out of touch with EU peers as prime minister and may have played a role in his calling, and losing, the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Girling and Ashworth said they planned to remain members of the British Conservative party although they had already been suspended from the whip in the EU legislature in October for voting for a European Parliament resolution opposing a request by Prime Minister Theresa May to open trade talks.

An ECR spokesman 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.”

The EPP, the largest party in the chamber, welcomed the defectors, noting that it now included lawmakers from all 28 EU states. Come March next year, when Britain leaves the Union, its 73 members of the European Parliament will lose their jobs.

Editing by Alastair Macdonald

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