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- Seven Labour MPs announced their resignations from the party on Monday morning after months of tension and disagreement over the leadership’s handling of Brexit and antisemitism.
- The seven are: Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker, and Ann Coffey. They will operate under the name the Independent Group.
- The group will sit as independent MPs in the House of Commons.
- “British politics is now well and truly broken,” Chris Leslie, one MP said at the press conference. “The evidence of Labour’s betrayal [on Brexit] is now clear for all to see.”
- The group then called for cross-ideology action against Brexit, inviting MPs from all political parties to join their group.
LONDON – Seven MPs announced their departure from Labour on Monday morning after months of tension and disagreement over the leadership’s handling of Brexit and antisemitism within the party.
The seven – Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker, and Ann Coffey – told a press conference in central London that they were quitting Labour to become independent MPs, operating under the name the “Independent Group.”
It is the biggest Labour split since a handful of senior figures walked away from the party in 1981 to form a centre-left party called the Social Democrat Party.
“British politics is now well and truly broken,” Chris Leslie, one of the seven departing MPs, said at the press conference on Monday morning. “The evidence of Labour’s betrayal [on Brexit] is now clear for all to see.”
“We have no choice but to say collectively, enough is enough,” the former shadow minister added, saying that the group believes Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is focused on a “narrow and outdated ideology.”
In a statement released soon after the announcement was made, the Independent Group said:
“Our primary duty as Members of Parliament is to put the best interests of our constituents and our country first. Yet like so many others, we believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country.
“Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interests.”
Responding to the split, Labour leader Corbyn said he was “disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election.”
Labour splits after months of tension and speculation
There was talk of a potential Labour split months prior to Monday morning. The party’s most staunch pro-EU MPs have been unhappy with Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and his refusal to support a new referendum.
“I am furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit,” Mike Gapes, the MP for Ilford South said on Monday.
There is also frustration among MPs about the leadership’s handling of the antisemitism crisis which has engulfed Labour over the last few years. A new report by the anti-racism group Hope Note Hate concluded that the Labour Party is not doing enough to tackle antisemitism in response to hundreds of allegations against its members.
Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger, who is Jewish and has been at the heart of the party’s antisemitism row, said she is leaving behind an “institutionally antisemitic” party that endorses “bigotry” and “bullying.”
“I am sickened that the Labour Party is now a racist and antisemitic party,” her colleague Gapes said.
Anne Coffey, who represents Stockport, added: “Antisemitism is rife and tolerated. The current leadership has been very successful in changing this party beyond recognition.
“It is no longer a broad church. Any criticism of the leadership is responded to with abuse and accusations of treachery.”
The Independent Group invited people from across the political spectrum to join them, with Umunna, one of the most fervent backers of People’s Vote, making a clear appeal to rebels within the Conservative Party.
“We invite you to leave your parties and help us forge a new consensus for the way forward for Britain.”
Umunna said that the group has not yet formalised official roles, including who will be leader.
The group also ruled out fighting by-elections in their constituencies in the near future. By-elections are “absolutely not what is needed right now,” Chris Leslie said.
A split was “inevitable”
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock on Sunday night said that a party split was inevitable.
“The talk has been going on so long that I say with great regret that yes, there probably will be some kind of splintering,” he told the BBC’s Westminster Hour.
“It just seems to have been in the rumour mill so long that it’s unlikely that wouldn’t be the outcome.”
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell warned on Sunday that a Labour split would only benefit the Conservatives and lead to a decade of Tory rule.
“It would be like the 1980s. In my constituency in Hayes and Harlington we had a Labour MP join the SDP and we lost the seat to the Conservatives. And it basically installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade,” he said.
“I don’t think any of the people who have even been mentioned around this split would want that.”
McDonnell also re-assured the anti-Brexit MPs who are considering quitting the party that Labour could still yet support a new referendum, or what campaigners call a “People’s Vote,” despite Corbyn’s reservations.
“On all the issues people have raised as a reason for a split, we’re dealing with [them]. For example on Brexit we’re holding the party together. Those saying we’ll split over a people’s vote, well, we’ve still kept that option on the table and it might come about. Why split over that? It’s ridiculous,” McDonnell said.
Labour MP Gloria De Piero on Friday pleaded with her colleagues not to quit the party.
“Please don’t go,” she said an interview with the BBC, before adding that a split only “benefits the Tories.”