Two Tory MEPs have quit the party’s group in the European Parliament over differences on Brexit.

Julie Girling and Richard Ashworth have left the European Conservative and Reformists Group (ECR) to sit with the main centre-right block in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP).

The pair – along with fellow Tory MEP Charles Tannock – are part of a cross party group campaigning to keep Britain inside the customs union and single market.

In a statement, they said being part of the EPP group will allow them to “more effectively further the prospects of achieving the best possible future for our constituents”:

The move comes after Girling and Ashworth inflicted an embarrassing blow on Theresa May by breaking the Tory whip in a key vote in the European Parliament in October.

They voted in favour a motion calling for Brexit talks to be delayed because the UK Government had failed to resolve basic issues.

That saw them branded “traitors to their country and party” by Tory commentator Iain Dale, while Tory minister Robert Jenrick said they had “behaved appallingly.”

Girling and Ashworth say they intend to remain members of the Tory party, but there are likely to be renewed calls for them to be thrown out.

Especially given that their defection is a huge coup to one of the UK Government’s biggest critics over Brexit: EPP group leader Manfred Weber.

The German MEP has posted photos of him welcoming the Tory rebels to an EPP group meeting this morning:

The Tories were part of the EPP group until 2009 when they broke away to form the ECR.

The move, which has left the Tories politically isolated in Europe, was promised by David Cameron in the 2005 Tory leadership race in order to win the backing of eurosceptic MPs.

Nick Clegg characterised the ECR as a collection of  “nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes.”

Scrapbook revealed that the current co-chair of the group is a proudly homophobic Polish MEP who has published a book called: “Why I am not tolerant”.

MORE: Two Tory MEPs side with the EU in a key vote

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