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Kent MEP Richard Ashworth suspended from party after supporting EU vote to put on hold Brexit talks

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The South East England Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth has been suspended from the party after supporting a vote in Strasbourg saying not enough progress had been made in the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Ashworth, a formed leader of the EU Conservative group, 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The MEP was one of two to have the whip withdrawn and his suspension underlines tensions within the party over Brexit.

Flags in front of the EU Commission building in Brussels
Flags in front of the EU Commission building in Brussels

In a letter explaining the decision, the Conservative party’s chief whip in the EU Dan Dalton wrote:

“The resolution by the European parliament sought to delay progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU by holding back talks on the future relationship. It also proposed that one part of the UK, Northern Ireland, could remain in the single market and customs union, while the rest of the UK departs – which is not acceptable.”

“Given the seriousness of this issue, and your failure to discuss your intention to vote against the agreed position of the Conservative delegation in advance, I am therefore writing to inform you that I am suspending the Conservative whip from you until further notice.”

Mr Ashworth, who lives in Kent and was brought up in Folkestone, said he was confused by his suspension.

He 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 PM or removing her.”

"We were asked a technical question about how much progress had been made and the answer for me was not enough - Richard Ashworth MEP

He said the lack of certainty over the status of EU nationals, the border issue with Northern Ireland and future trade deals with member states were all factors he had taken into consideration when voting.

Mr Ashworth is a noted Europhile. In June, he said Mrs May’s failure to secure an improved majority did not give her the right to pursue a “hard” Brexit.

“Given (Theresa May) has no overall majority, she has to get on and run the country in the best of interests of everybody. I do not think she has a mandate for the “hard” Brexit she described.”

He added that a “complete severance” from the world’s largest and wealthiest market on the UK’s doorstep would be “economic suicide”.

“No one has been able to convince me why global Britain is going to flourish while at the same time we are going to be offered border free, tariff free and seamless trading arrangements with the 27 member states. What is true is that Brexit would bring a significant fall in the value of sterling."

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