According to this morning’s Daily Express, two Conservative MEPs have defied the Government’s position and voted against Britain and the EU advancing to the trade portion of the Brexit negotiations.
Richard Ashworth, who sits for the South East, and Julie Girling, an MEP for the South West, broke ranks to support a motion that the UK has not made ‘sufficient progress’ to be permitted to start talking trade.
Even for committed Europhiles, it’s difficult to see the tactical wisdom of this move. Not only did the motion pass very comfortably, by 557 votes to 92 with 29 abstentions, but it has no direct impact on the process because, as Liam Fox points out in the article, the European Parliament is not involved in the Brexit process.
Nor is it apparent why any lawmaker whose primary loyalty is to this country would vote so directly against its interests, especially when they’re from the same party as forms the national government.
Were either Ashworth or Girling proud of their case, we might at least have an explanation to pick over. But the Express reports that neither responded to repeated requests for comment, and no mention of the vote is made on their Twitter feeds. Perhaps some of their constituents might get in touch and let us know if they hear anything back.
Of course, in the British tradition legislators are representatives, not delegates, and Girling and Ashworth are perfectly entitled to vote against their colleagues, their party, and their country’s negotiating position if that’s truly the way their consciences point them.
But stories like this will simply deepen the mistrust between Conservative Brexiteers and Remainers at a time when, as Ruth Davidson phrased it in her conference speech, they need to be coming together as “just Brits” – and trying to deliver a workable exit deal which serves the long-term interests of the UK and, as a consequence, of the Tory Party too.