Tory MEPs replace leader after four years

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Indy Politics

Tory MEPs ditched their leader, Edward McMillan-Scott, last night when a left-right alliance took charge of the party in the European Parliament.

The new leader of the 35 MEPs will be Jonathan Evans, a former minister and keen pro-European, while Theresa Villiers, also a Westminster veteran and arch-Eurosceptic, will be deputy. Mr McMillan-Scott led the party from 1997 and fought hard to maintain a semblance of unity in a party split between pro-Europeans and a smaller but vocal group of hardline sceptics.

Yesterday's narrow vote of 19-17 in favour of Mr Evans reflected an alliance among his opponents on both wings of the party and growing disenchantment over the stalemate. It came on the eve of a visit to Brussels by Iain Duncan Smith, the party leader, who will meet fellow leaders from centre-right parties amid growing controversy over the role of Tory MEPs within their ranks.

Mr Duncan Smith wants the Conservatives to be able to advance distinctive policies within the umbrella group of centre-right MEPS, the European People's Party/European Democrats. As this is likely to be rejected, the Tories may leave the bloc, which has political control of the parliament.