Lib Dem MEPs defy Ashdown over deal

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The Independent Online
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MEPs have rebelled against Paddy Ashdown, the outgoing party leader, by agreeing a deal with centre-right parties in the European Parliament despite pleas from Westminster.

The dispute, the latest evidence of tensions over Liberal Democrat political strategy, came to a head on Tuesday with a faxed plea from the party in London, calling on its 10 MEPs at Strasbourg to think again. However, when Westminster MPs met last night, they backed the deal between Europe's 50-strong Liberal grouping and the biggest group in the parliament, the centre-right European People's Party.

The faxed letter from the Liberal Democrat chief whip, Paul Tyler, expressed reservations over the arrangement and Mr Ashdown raised the same concerns. But the intervention may have had the opposite effect to that intended. One MEP said yesterday: "It was the first opportunity to... express our independence."

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrat MPs said last night: "We are happy with the MEPs' decision, which will enable them to represent the party's cause effectively and underlines our enhanced status in the parliament."