3 UK Conservative MPs resign from party
LONDON — Three Conservative MPs resigned from their party to join The Independent Group of eight Labour MPs who earlier this week formed a breakaway centrist faction in parliament.
The three MPs — Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry — have been highly critical of Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy on Brexit and have voted against the government on that issue.
In a joint letter to the prime minister they accuse May of a “shift to the right” and of being “firmly in the grip” of the Brexiteer group of backbenchers, the European Research Group, and the Democratic Unionist Party.
“Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up ‘red lines,’” they wrote. “The 48% [who voted Remain in the referendum] were not only sidelined, they were alienated.”
The move adds momentum to The Independent Group which hitherto had been made up of former Labour MPs disillusioned by their own party’s leadership on Brexit, anti-Semitism and foreign policy. With the U.K.’s imminent departure from the EU causing fault lines through both major parties, there have been rumors for months about splits and breakaways. As yet, the new group is not a party and does not have a leader or specific policies, although all the MPs who have joined so far support a second referendum on Brexit.
At a press conference in Westminster, Allen referred to the trio as “the three amigos,” adding that she was “tired of feeling numb,” and of “nodding through policy and voting like sheep.”
“I want to be part of something better: a party that people vote for because they want to not not because they feel they have to,” she said. “I feel liberated.”
“We might fail, but isn’t the prize worth fighting for?” she asked, “I for one am prepared to give it everything I’ve got.”
Soubry said that what she called “traditional, one nation Tories” like her had been fighting the right-wing of the party from within, but that was now lost. “The truth is the battle is over and the other side has won,” she said, “The right wing, the hard-line anti EU awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe. They are the Conservative Party.”
Sarah Wollaston urged the prime minister to change her mind and hand the decision on Brexit back to the British people. “This is not a binary choice between no deal and a poor deal, there is a third way,” she said.
The MPs said that neither Theresa May nor the party’s whips had tried to persuade them to not to leave the party.
Asked if other like-minded Tory MPs were set to join them, Allen said: “Everybody has to get there in their own time, but yes we do believe there is a significant number of colleagues.”
In their letter to May, the three MPs said it is “unconscionable” that May is “marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal.”
“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”
May issued a statement saying she is “saddened” by the decision of the three MPs. “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,” the prime minister said.
“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.” And she said that she is “determined” that the Tories should offer “decent, moderate and patriotic politics.”
Patrick McLaughlin, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, played down the split. “We’ve had people leave the party before and they’ve gone on to not be noticed,” he told Sky News.
Asked whether May could have done more to prevent the move. “I don’t think she could have done more. She has been working tirelessly,” he said.
Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan wrote on Twitter: “Any political party should be a broad church and we should regret losing three such talented women from the Conservative Party.”
May’s Conservatives do not have a majority in parliament and are only able to govern because of a confidence-and-supply deal with the DUP.