In Brief

David Cameron made late bid to prevent Tory defections

Former PM wrote to Soubry, Wollaston and Allen to try and persuade them to stay

David Cameron

David Cameron made a late effort to stop three MPs defecting from the Conservative Party to join the newly formed Independent Group, it has been reported.

Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen quit the Tories yesterday to join the eight Labour MPs who resigned earlier this week. In a statement, the three Remain-supporting MPs said: “Brexit has redefined the Conservative Party - undoing all the efforts to modernise it.”

Later, Soubry told The Times Red Box podcast that Cameron had sent a message to the MPs as they prepared to announce their defection, asking: “Is it too late to persuade you to stay?”

The former prime minister later said of the defections: “I respect their decision, but disagree with them: we need strong voices at every level of the party calling for the modern, compassionate Conservatism that saw the Conservative Party return to office.”

Reaction to the departures has been mixed. An opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph says “most Tories will not miss these three MPs who thought they were bigger than the party”, while the Daily Mirror claims the party is in “meltdown”. The Daily Mail has described this as a “seismic” time for British politics

It is understood that Theresa May made no effort to prevent the MPs leaving and has been warned that more Tories will join the Independent Group. Former cabinet minister Justine Greening - hotly tipped to leave - said that “unless our party rediscovers its mission, the party’s over”.

Although May’s handling of Brexit was the key issue for the Tory defectors, two of them broadened their attack on May. Allen said she can “no longer represent a government and a party who can’t open their eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable in society”, and Wollaston said the PM “simply hasn’t delivered on the pledge she made... to tackle the burning injustices in our society”.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says that the eight MPs who quit his party earlier this week should “resign and put themselves up for election”. In a video published on Twitter, the Labour leader said it was the “democratic thing to do” because they intended to "abandon the policies on which they were elected”.

He said it was “disappointing that some MPs have left our party to sit with disaffected Tory MPs”, but insisted that the Labour movement would fight on and is “greater than the sum of its parts”.

A YouGov poll suggests one in seven voters would back Independent Group candidates at an election, despite it having no official party, leader or policies. It intends to start hiring staff after a meeting on Monday that will also decide the issue of its leadership.

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