Three Tory MPs quit the party and defected to the Independent Group today in a humiliating blow for Theresa May.
Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen made a sensational move to join eight former Labour MPs – warning the ‘country deserves better’ from its politics.
Vowing to stand in the ‘centre ground’ in a damning letter to Mrs May the group said they could not remain in the Tories while it was ‘in the grip of the ERG and DUP’.
They said Brexit has ‘redefined the Conservative Party – undoing all efforts to modernise it’.
In an immediate response, Mrs May said she was ‘saddened’ by the decision and vowed the Tories would ‘always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics’ Britain deserved.
She said delivering Brexit was ‘never going to be easy’ but insisted she was ‘doing the right thing for our country’.
The move puts rocket boosters under the new political movement that was launched by a ‘gang of seven’ ex-Labour MPs on Monday. It is the biggest split in British politics since 1981 and could set in motion a total realignment of the party system.
Other MPs could quickly follow. Former Tory minister Philip Lee admitted today he had been asked to do so while, while ex attorney general Dominic Grieve said he only had no ‘current’ plans to switch.
Losing three MPs weakens Mrs May’s already feeble hold on the Commons and leave her even more dependent on her DUP allies to command a majority of MPs.
Even with the Northern Ireland party, she now has a majority of just eight – meaning rebellion of five MPs can defeat her.
Last night Joan Ryan became the 8th MP to quit Labour and join the group, warning under Jeremy Corbyn the party has become ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.
Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger led the historic move on Monday when the ‘gang of seven’ broke away.
Tory MPs including Heidi Allen (left) and Anna Soubry (right) have resigned to join the new Independent Group today. They are pictured with Independent Group ringleader Chuka Umunna in January
Sarah Wollaston (pictured with anti-Brexit protests last month) has also made the leap in a humiliating blow for Theresa May
Mrs May said she was ‘saddened’ by the MPs’ decision and vowed the Tories would ‘always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics’ Britain deserved
In a damning letter to Mrs May, the group said they could not remain in the Tories while it was ‘in the grip of the ERG and DUP’ – adding Brexit has ‘redefined the Conservative Party – undoing all efforts to modernise it’
The new trio of ex-Tories said: ‘We no longer feel we can remain in the Party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.
‘Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a 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.’
They added: ‘The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.
‘Following the EU referendum of 2016, no genuine effort was made to build a cross party, let alone a national consensus to deliver Brexit.
‘Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up ‘red lines’. The 48% were not only sidelined, they were alienated.’
In response, Mrs May said: ‘I am saddened by this decision – these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it.
What is the Independent Group and can you vote for it?
What happened this week?
Seven MPs resigned from the Labour Party on Monday and set up something called the Independent Group. They were joined by an eigth Labour MP last night.
Today three Tory MPs have also left their party – warning the Conservatives have been gripped by a right wing, pro Brexit insurgency.
Who is in the group?
Ex-Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Joan Ryan.
Ex-Tory MPs Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.
Is it a political party?
No. It is a small business – technically a limited company – called Gemini A Ltd that was set up Gavin Shuker, one of the MPs, in January.
Can I vote for it?
No. Unless and until it registers with the Electoral Commission, it cannot stand candidates.
Can I donate to it?
Yes. The group is accepting donations through its website theindependent.group. It says donations will support the newly independent MPs.
What does it want?
All the MPs are Remain supporters and most of them have promoted a second referendum to cancel Brexit. They say they want evidence-based policy making to tackle the challenges facing Britain – without being inside the current political parties.
‘Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy.
‘But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country.
‘And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future.’
‘I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve.’
Pro-Brexit Tory MP Michael Fabricant described The Independent Group of as ‘an anti-Brexit party’ and called on the Government to ‘deliver the result of the EU Referendum’.
He tweeted: ‘TIG are an anti-Brexit Party. Labour MPs have joined citing anti-Semitism and Corbyn as the reason.
‘The 3 Conservative MPs are citing Brexit.
‘Sad to see them go but the Government must deliver the result of EU Referendum.’
Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson has offered her ‘kudos to the brave MPs’ from both Labour and Conservative parties who have resigned this week.
She tweeted: ”a purple momentum is now subsuming the Conservative party… marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal’
‘Kudos to the brave MPs who have left the broken Conservative and Labour parties. Our country deserves better than this national shambles of a Government.’
Left-wing supporters of Jeremy Corbyn seized on the Tory defections to attack the Independent Group project.
Momentum’s National Coordinator Laura Parker said: ‘It’s clear that the new party is a Blairite-Tory coalition aimed at resurrecting a dead agenda of privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts for the super rich.
‘This is not what their constituents voted for. Umunna, Leslie and Smith’s constituents overwhelmingly voted Labour and have ended up with an MP in coalition with the Tories.
‘This is unfair, undemocratic and dishonest. The only decent thing to do is to call a by-election and let their constituents decide.’
Ms Soubry missed Commons votes on Monday after the group made its announcement fuelling speculation among Tory whips she could defect.
Ms Wollaston has protested the rise of ex-Ukip members in Tory ranks, warning they are joining with hard Brexiteer MPs to take over the party.
Ms Allen has been a fierce critic of the Government on several front, campaigning against it on welfare reform and slamming the Brexit strategy.
Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes left in rage at Mr Corbyn’s leadership
Joan Ryan, the MP for Enfield North, said she would be joining the newly founded Independent Group, alongside seven other disaffected Labour parliamentarians
All three of the new ex-Tory MPs have campaign alongside members of the Independent Group for a second referendum on Brexit, and took part in Government meetings together after Theresa May’s deal was defeated.
The final straw is Brexit: In their own words, why three Tory MPs have defected to the Independent Group
It is with regret that we are writing to resign the Conservative whip and our member ship of the Party.
We voted for you as Leader and Prime Minister because you were committed to a moderate, open-hearted Conservative Party in the One Nation tradition. A party of economic competence, representing the best of British business, delivering good jobs, opportunity and prosperity for all, funding world class public services and tacking inequalities. We had hoped you would also continue to modernise our party so that it could reach out and broaden its appeal to younger voters and to embrace and reflect the diversity of the communities we seek to represent.
Sadly, the Conservative Party has increasingly abandoned these principles and values with a shift to the right of British Politics.
We no longer feel we can remain in the party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.
‘Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it.
‘There has been a 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.’
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. A purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative party, as much as the hard left has been allowed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour party.
We have tried consistently and for some time to keep the Party close to the centre ground of British politics.
You assured us when you first sought the leadership that this was your intention. We haven’t changed, the Conservative Party has and it no longer reflects the values and beliefs we share with millions of people throughout the United Kingdom.
They added: ‘The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.’
Veteran Conservative Ken Clarke said he believed some Tory MPs were considering joining the new Independent Group.
‘Certainly some Members of Parliament are getting very fed up,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘There are some, I think – not including me – who probably are contemplating leaving if the party moves too far to the right and no longer represents what they regard as the mainstream Conservative views they have held for all the previous years.
‘I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope it doesn’t come to that.’
Mr Umunna yesterday directly appealed for Tory politicians to join the new movement, which he said could be a full-blown new party within months.
He told the Today programme the ‘gang of seven’ were putting ‘everything on the line’ – and said: ‘We’re inviting anybody who shares our values to join us.
‘There are clearly a lot of Labour MPs wrestling with their conscience, and Conservatives who are demoralised for the Ukip-isation, if you like, of the party.’
Mr Ummuna added: ‘There are many other people who have misgivings about their parties.
‘If we’re to fix the broken politics, you can’t do that within the existing parties who can’t be the change because they’ve become the problem in my view.’
As she detailed the reasons for her own resignation today, Ms Ryan said the problems of anti-Semitism in Labour only began when Mr Corbyn became leader.
‘We never had this problem in the party before he was the leader. It comes with him, it is part of his politics I am afraid,’ she said.
‘Labour should be the bulwark against that – against the hard right and their views. Instead of that, inside Labour it is perpetuating anti-Semitism.’
Ms Ryan said she was also unhappy with Mr Corbyn’s position on Brexit.
‘The other huge problem is that I think Jeremy Corbyn is aiding and abetting a hard Brexit,’ she said.
She said there was a ‘large number’ of Labour MPs who were unhappy with the leadership and that she hoped like-minded members from any party would consider joining the new Independent Group.
‘I hope that all like-minded MPs from whatever party will want to join this group. It is early days. It is about trying to change the political weather,’ she said.
Mr Umunna was one of seven Labour MPs to quit on Monday with an explosive attack on Mr Corbyn for letting anti-Semitism and a culture of bullying infect their party.
Veteran Conservative Ken Clarke said he believed some Tory MPs were considering joining the new Independent Group
After the move Mr Corbyn’s own deputy warned more MPs would abandon the party if Labour fails to deal with a culture of bullying and harassment.
Tom Watson said he believed the decision of seven MPs to resign and set up a new Independent Group was ‘premature’ but he refused to condemn them as ‘traitors’ as he admitted he also no longer recognised parts of Labour.
Labour’s second in command said the hard-left takeover over of the party had left it with an army of activists ‘too easily tempted into the language of heresy and treachery’.
Announcing their decision at yesterday’s sensational press conference, Miss Berger said: ‘This morning we have all now resigned from the Labour Party. This has been a very difficult, painful, but necessary decision.’
She added: ‘For my part, I have become embarrassed and ashamed to remain in the Labour Party.
‘I cannot remain in a party which I have come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic.’