Vince Cable dismisses David Davis's 'absurd' plea to suspend MEP who voted against opening post-Brexit trade talks

The Conservatives disciplined two of their own MEPs for voting for the motion

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 16 October 2017 20:58 BST
‘It is preposterous to claim that a non-binding vote in the European Parliament is preventing talks from progressing,’ says Sir Vince
‘It is preposterous to claim that a non-binding vote in the European Parliament is preventing talks from progressing,’ says Sir Vince (AFP)

Sir Vince Cable has dismissed David Davis’s suggestion that opposition MEPs should be suspended for voting against opening post-Brexit trade talks as the “latest assault on democracy” from the UK Government.

In a scathing letter seen by The Independent, the Liberal Democrat leader described the request as “absurd” and likened recent actions by the Brexit Secretary to comments made by Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, who suggested journalists should be willing to be more “patriotic” when reporting on Brexit.

It comes after the European Parliament, including the Liberal Democrats’ one MEP, overwhelming passed a motion earlier this month warning that “sufficient progress has not yet been made” and advised the European Commission to delay opening talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

Two of the Conservatives’ 21-strong group of MEPs in Brussels defied the party whip and voted for the non-binding motion. It was widely interpreted as a major setback for Theresa May, who hoped her speech in Florence – promising to plug any hold in the EU budget, until 2020 – would break the stalemate.

As a result both of the MEPs had the whip removed by Downing Street and the Brexit Secretary called on Labour and the Liberal Democrats to suspend their own MEPs for voting “against the best future for the UK and the EU”.

But responding to Mr Davis, Sir Vince said he found it “extraordinary” and “alarming” that the Government was resorting to “demanding opposition parties sack representatives for doing their jobs”.

He continued: “On the contrary, with the negotiations now at stalemate, strong voices seek to arrest the possibility of a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit are needed more than ever.

“The motion concerned was brought before the European Parliament to emphasise the importance of EU citizens’ rights in this negotiation. The British Government has repeatedly failed to give assurances on the rights of EU citizens to remain in this country after we leave the EU.

“The Liberal Democrats have been unequivocal, both in Parliament and beyond, that the Government should guarantee a right to remain for existing EU citizens, and to secure the rights of UK citizens living in Europe.

“Had the Government made that guarantee, there would be no impediment to the talks proceeding to discussion of the future trading relationship. It is preposterous to claim that a non-binding vote in the European Parliament is preventing talks from progressing when the Government holds the solution to the stalemate in its own hands.”

Ending his letter, Sir Vince added: “I trust that you will no longer find it necessary to make these absurd demands of opposition parties.”

In his letter to the Lib Dem leader shortly after the vote two weeks’ ago, Mr Davis wrote: “This non-binding vote by the European Parliament sends a signal about the importance each sides attaches to agreeing a future partnership. The Conservative Party therefore instructed our MEPs to vote against the motion, and in favour of the UK’s national interest, and I have removed the whip from those who refused to do so.

“While I would not expect opposition political parties to agree with us all the time about the end state we seek, it is self-evident part of the national interest to support a discussion about our future relationship with Europe.

“So I was disappointed that your party’s MEP voted against moving the negotiations onto the next stage. Will you follow suit and take action against the MEP from your party who voted against the best future for the UK and the EU, or is this the official position of the Liberal Democrats?”

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