MARGOT James has defended her decision to abstain from last night's no-deal Brexit vote, after local Conservatives dubbed the abstention as 'cowardly'.

Ms James abstained from the final of last night's votes to prevent the UK from leaving the EU without a deal at any time, despite it being a whipped vote by the Government, who ordered Conservatives MPs to vote against it.

Her decision to abstain in the government's vote but not to resign from her role as Minister of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport provoked anger from her Conservative colleagues locally.

Former Dudley Council leaders Councillor Anne Millward and Councillor Les Jones blasted James' decision.

She said: "I was very disappointed. I don't believe in fence sitting, I think it's cowardly. To fence sit and not offer a resignation is not acceptable and I think it's upset a lot of people in Stourbridge.

"The country voted to leave and all these silly amendments are getting us nowhere."

Councillor Les Jones, who represents Pedmore and Stourbridge East, said Margot's decision was 'hard to swallow'.

He said: "I can respect a Minister for resigning to vote with their conscience, but not one who abstains but then fails to resign."

Ms James said she 'understood' the criticism of her colleagues but defended her decision to abstain but not resign.

She said: "I fully understand the criticism of my conduct made by some Conservative colleagues locally. Abstention can be a rather shabby position to take and I am not particularly proud of myself. However, I did accept the Government view that the substance of the motion had changed - not radically, but the revised motion was stronger against no deal than the original.

"In the end, I could not bring myself to vote against something in which I believed, but neither did I want to oppose the Government of which I am a member. During normal times my actions would result in my leaving the Government. During normal times the whipping system obliges ministers to follow the government whip. These are not normal times."

Last night's vote on ruling out a no-deal Brexit descended into confusion after the Government decided to whip the vote on whether the UK should not leave the EU with no deal in any event, at the last minute.

MPs had earlier been promised a free vote.

Earlier in the evening, Ms James had followed the Government whip and voted against an amendment to the Government motion which sought to prevent the country from leaving the EU without a deal.

She explained: "I followed the Government Whip because, along with many other MPs, I thought that I would get the chance to vote for the Government's motion afterwards. That motion, as well as being against no deal, also noted that it would remain the legal default.

"This was not to be. The Government whipped against its own motion, having been amended by the earlier vote, denying my colleagues and I the opportunity of a free vote on the issue."

She added: "I decided to abstain. I was not prepared to vote against something with which I agreed twice in one day. Having fought to get a vote on no deal, I should perhaps have voted for the motion rather than abstaining."