The team of the CCCU Centre for European Studies – Director Prof Amelia Hadfield, Graduate Coordinator Noora Virtannen and Undergraduate Coordinate Christian Turner – analyse and comment on the suspension of Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth from party whip.
On Tuesday 3rd October 2017, a resolution was put forward by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative on Brexit, that the negotiations surrounding Britain’s departure from the European Union were not yet advanced enough to justify moving onto Phase Two of the discussions: namely negotiating the future relationship between the two parties.
The non-bidding motion was comfortably passed by 557 votes to 92, with 27 abstentions. Of the 557 MEPs to vote for the motion, 26 were from the United Kingdom. Within this group of 26 UK MEPs, 18 were Labour, 3 Green, 1 Liberal Democrat, 1 Sinn Fein, 1 Plaid Cymru and finally, 2 from the Conservatives who sit within the ECR (European Conservative and Reforms Group). Four of these MPs represent the South East of England, including Labour’s newly selected John Howarth, who replaced Anneliese Dodds over the summer, and Richard Ashworth, who has served in the ECR since 2009, and briefly led the Conservatives in the European Parliament itself between 2012-13.
On Sunday 8th October, it emerged that Ashworth (who represents 9 counties as part of the South East) and his party colleague, Julie Girling (South West), had the Tory party whip withdrawn after the vote. The removal of the party whip means that for the duration of their suspension, Ashworth and Girling will not be considered members of the Conservative Party, and therefore technically sit as independents. In addition, they will lose access to the party machinery, related to media, staff and funding, and in extreme cases, can be a cause to be deselected for future elections. Dan Dalton, the Conservative Party Chief Whip in the European Parliament, wrote to the pair that the reasons for the suspension were as follows:
“The Brexit negotiations are the most important negotiations our country faces and reaching a new partnership with the European Union is in the interests of both the UK and the EU. 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. Given the seriousness of this issue I am suspending the Conservative whip from you until further notice.” (The Guardian, October 2017)
Mr Ashworth responded by insisting that this was ‘not a vote against Brexit (nor) a vote to derail or obstruct negotiations’. He added that the negotiations ‘need to urgently move on to trade… however, it is my view that we have not yet made sufficient progress on phase one’.