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British MEPs rebel in major Brexit vote in the European Parliament

MEPs voting on the future of EU-UK relations in Strasbourg yesterday (European Parliament)

Brexit is one of the few subjects that unites politicians of all stripes on the continent.

Communists and conservatives found themselves voting together on the issue in the European Parliament yesterday.

An overwhelming majority of MEPs supported a resolution on the future of EU-UK relations which represented a clear rebuke to what they see as Theresa May’s “cherry picking”.

It aims for “continued cooperation” but states that Britain should not expect to “enjoy similar benefits or market access as EU member states” after Brexit.

It also demands the UK should maintain EU standards in exchange for a free trade agreement and accept oversight of the European Court of Justice, something the UK Government objects to.

The tough stance, which set the scene for the next round of Brexit negotiations on trade, was backed by 77% of the 705 MEPs who voted.

Result of the vote on the future of EU-UK relations (European Parliament)

But the voting record published today reveals there wasn’t such unanimity among British MEPs.

Politicians on the right rebelled while parties on the left were splintered.

Here’s our guide to the disparate positions taken by British MEPs on the big Brexit vote:

Like at Westminster, the Conservative group in the European Parliament is divided over Brexit.

The majority of Tory MEPs, including prominent Leave campaigner Dan Hannan, voted against the European Parliament’s motion yesterday.

But one of their number, Charles Tannock, rebelled.

The MEP of 19 years describes himself as a “passionate remainer” and has called on his party leader to keep Britain in the Single Market.

Conservative MEP Charles Tannock (European Parliament)

He abstained in yesterday’s vote in the hope of sending a message while avoiding a party disciplinary.

His decision to abstain on the motion rather than give his outright support was no doubt informed by the experience of his colleagues Richard Ashworth and Julie Girling.

The pair were suspended by the Conservative party in October after voting for a motion in the European Parliament which criticised the UK Government approach to Brexit talks.

They were allowed back in but have now been suspended for a second time after leaving the official Conservative ECR group in the European Parliament to join the rival centre-right EPP group.

But the record shows that Girling rebelled against her new group yesterday – she abstained while her new EPP colleagues supported it. Ashworth didn’t vote.

Julie Girling in the shark pool at Sealife London Aquarium (Getty)

The left were also splintered on the resolution.

Labour’s leader in the European Parliament, Richard Corbett, said MEPs had sent a “clear” message that they would not sign-off on a deal that lowered standards or weakened rights.

So it might come as a surprise to know that Labour MEPs abstained rather than voted in favour.

That’s because they have recently been accused by Conservatives of “colluding” with the EU to stop the UK Government getting a good Brexit deal.

While abstaining might help quell criticism from the right, it leaves them open to criticism from the left by parties who voted for the motion.

Green, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein MEPs all took a more uncompromising position.

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato speaks in Tuesday’s Brexit debate (European Parliament)

“Brexit is a clear example of ideology triumphing over reason,” Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said in yesterday’s debate.

The three former UKIP MEPs now sitting apart from the party’s group in the European Parliament – including former leader Diane James – speaks of the infighting that has racked the party recently.

But old wounds were healed yesterday as the eurosceptics united against the resolution.

The vote shows just how far away British MEPs are from finding the same unity as their continental colleagues.

And there’s only months to go before the European Parliament is asked to vote on the final Brexit deal.