In Depth

Three Tory MPs quit to join new Independent Group

Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen teaming up with eight former Labour MPs

Three Tory MPs have left the party to join the new Independent Group in protest at the Conservatives’ “shift to the right” following Brexit.

Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen announced their departure in a joint letter to Theresa May, reports the BBC.

The trio told the prime minister that they could no longer “remain in the party of a government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip” of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), May’s sometimes parliamentary allies.

“Brexit has redefined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hardline ERG, which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy,” they wrote.

Soubry is a former government minister who sat in David Cameron’s cabinet, while Wollaston is chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee. Allen, elected in 2015, “recently embarked on an ‘anti-poverty tour’ around Britain with the former Labour MP Frank Field”, says The Guardian.

The three women said they “intend to sit as independents alongside the Independent Group of MPs in the centre ground of British politics”.

However, they added that “there will be times when we will support the Government, for example, on measures to strengthen our economy, security and improve our public services”.

May said she was “saddened” to lose them as MPs, adding: “These are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it.

“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.”

The three will join the eight Labour MPs including new addition Joan Ryan, who quit this week to form the Independent Group in Parliament.

Labour’s grass-roots organisation Momentum 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.”

All the same, the latest defections may come as a relief to some figures within Labour. The Spectator’s Katy Balls tweets that party insiders may believe teaming up with former Tories will make the Independent Group (IG) “easier to attack and will put more tribal Labour MPs off [joining]”.

That view is echoed by The Times columnist Alex Massie, who says their arrival “complicates [the IG’s] core message: Jeremy Corbyn is not fit to be PM and means they would [now have] to be about much more than just that”.

But The Guardian’s Rafael Behr argued that if the group’s “proposition is that the mould of British politics is breaking”, they do need “to recruit conspicuously from left and right”. Otherwise, the IG is “just another satellite in orbit around Labour”, he tweets. 

One point on which commentators do agree is that the Tory trio’s defection has loosened May’s grip on power, with her practical majority in Parliament now reduced to just two.

The Tory crisis comes as Joan Ryan becomes the eighth Labour MP to quit Jeremy Corbyn’s party, claiming it has tolerated a “culture of anti-Jewish racism”.

Describing herself as “horrified, appalled and angered” by Corbyn’s record on the issue, the Enfield North MP said the Labour leadership has allowed “Jews to be abused with impunity”.

Ryan, who is chair of Labour Friends of Israel, added that she does not believe Corbyn and the “Stalinist clique which surrounds him” are fit to lead the country.

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