Conservative MPs quit in protest over Brexit, ERG

Conservative MPs quit
© iStock/mammuth

Three MPs have left the UK’s ruling Conservative party, citing concerns over Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of Brexit.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston today announced their exit from the party and their collective intention to join the Independent Group of former Labour MPs which formed earlier this week. All three have previously expressed reservations over the UK’s leaving the EU and May’s perceived deference to influential hard right Conservative faction the European Research Group.

In a joint letter to May announcing their collective exodus, Allen, Soubry and Wollaston excoriated what they called the “dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy”, adding: “This shift to the right has been exacerbated by blatant entryism. Not only has this been tolerated, it has been actively welcomed in some quarters.”

The letter continued: “We find it unconscionable that a Party once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal. No responsible government should knowingly and deliberately inflict the dire consequences of such a destructive exit on individuals, communities and businesses and put at risk the prospect of ending austerity. We also reject the false binary choice that you have presented to Parliament between a bad deal and no deal. Running down the clock to March 20 amounts to a policy of no deal and we are not prepared to wait until our toes are at the edge of the cliff. We can no longer act as bystanders.”

Conservative foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday told EU representatives that Labour could not be trusted after seven MPs quit the party on Monday. The Independent Group now has eleven members, meaning they have as many sitting MPs as the Liberal Democrats; Allen, Soubry and Wollaston held a press conference this afternoon to discuss their decision to leave the Conservatives.

  • Allen told the press conference she was “tired of feeling numb” about being a member of the Conservative party which “can’t open their eyes to the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society – suffering that has deepened, when it was in our power to fix it” and accused May of dragging the country to the edge of a “no-deal abyss”;
  • Dr Wollaston expressed “great sadness” about leaving the Conservatives. Her decision was about more than Brexit, she said, citing May’s failure to deliver on a 2016 pledge to “tackle burning injustices”; but as the government appeared to be hurtling towards a no-deal Brexit, it was time to “give the decision back to the people” in a second referendum;
  • Soubry, criticising the lurch to the right of the current Conservative party, said: “You don’t stay in a party to fight it”, particularly when “the other side has won”. Brexit, she said, “now defines and shapes the Conservative party”, which had been “infiltrated” by “the hardline anti-EU awkward squad” due to a “failure of leadership”. She added: “I am not leaving the Conservative party; it has left me.”

All three stated there had been no attempt by May or the Conservative leadership to reach out or to convince them to stay.

May has drastically lost several votes in the House of Commons over her negotiation tactics during the Brexit process; and 22 MPs have resigned for Brexit-related reasons since the formation of May’s Conservative minority government in June 2017. The defection of Allen, Soubry and Wollaston leaves the Prime Minister in an increasingly precarious position, commanding only 324 MPs including the representatives of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, who agreed to support the Conservatives in governing the country. The absolute minimum seats needed in order to hold a majority in the House of Commons is 322.

Last night Joan Ryan became the eighth MP to quit the Labour party over the leadership’s lack of action on Brexit and institutionalised antisemitism. In a statement, Ryan criticised “Jeremy Corbyn and the Stalinist clique that surrounds him” for failing to adequately oppose Conservative austerity policies and May’s pursuit of a “hard Brexit”; and said: “I cannot remain a member of the Labour party while its leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed, have their motives questioned, and their integrity called into doubt.” Councillor Anne Matthews of Brighton and Hove Council has announced she has also left the Labour party to join the Conservatives, citing “18 months of abuse and antisemitism”.

Another Labour MP, Ruth George, has apologised after suggesting the Independent Group is funded by Israel. The Labour party yesterday announced it was readmitting the controversial former Liverpool deputy mayor and property developer Derek Hatton, who was expelled from the party in 1986 for his membership of the Militant Tendency: Labour forbids its members from retaining membership of other political parties. Meanwhile George Galloway, who was expelled from the party in 2003 over his opposition to the Iraq war and has said the Independent Group’s allegations of antisemitism in Labour were “a lie”, has announced he intends to reapply for membership.

There are now 37 days until Brexit.

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