TEN more Labour MPs are ready to quit the red rose party and join a new group of “Independents” created on Monday, sources claim. Up to six Tories
TEN more Labour MPs are ready to quit the red rose party and join a new group of “Independents” created on Monday, sources claim.
Up to six Tories could join them before next week’s key Brexit vote.
Labour was rocked by a devastating historic split on Monday as seven anti-Brexit MPs quit the party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left revolution.
In the biggest shake-up to British politics for nearly 40 years, arch Remainer Chuka Umunna and other backbenchers tore into the hard-left leader over his stance on Brexit and failure to tackle anti-Semitism.
Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett warned the party was now at risk of “disintegration” while deputy leader Tom Watson urged Mr Corbyn to stamp out the toxic culture in Labour or face an exodus.
The seven – Mr Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Angela Smith – will now sit in Parliament as The Independent Group.
Bookies immediately cut the odds on a Tory victory at the next General Election given the disarray in Labour ranks.
And sources claimed as many as ten more Labour MPs could join in a matter of weeks – enough to make the Independents the fourth biggest party in Westminster above the Liberal Democrats.
One insider added that he also expected Labour peers Wahid Ali, Margaret McDonagh, John Reid to sit as Independents in the Lords.
In a sign of Labour’s shift under Mr Corbyn, it separately emerged last night that 1980s militant Derek Hatton was back as a Labour party member after a 30-year exile.
WHY THE SEVEN SPLIT
Arch-Remainer Chuka Umunna said the seven MPs – who all back a second referendum – had “taken the first step” and urged MPs from across the House to join them in “building a new politics”.
In a passionate address, Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger said Labour had become institutionally racist and that she was “embarrassed and ashamed to stay”.
She stormed: “The values I hold really dear, and which led me to join the Labour party as a student almost 20 years ago, remain who I am.
“And yet these values have been consistently and constantly violated, undermined and attacked as the Labour Party today refuses to put my constituents and our country before party interests.”
Chris Leslie accused Labour of betrayal over Brexit and said the seven could no longer “knock on doors and support a government led by Jeremy Corbyn or the team around him”.
And Mike Gapes – a lifetime working class campaigner – said a Jeremy Corbyn government would be a threat to Britain’s national security.
WHAT LEFTIE LEADERSHIP DID
In a short statement, Mr Corbyn said he was “disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election”.
But he incensed MPs by refusing to address a meeting of the parliamentary party last night and sending chairman Ian Lavery instead.
Sources claimed he was attending a funeral elsewhere in London.
Separately, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell insisted the seven should all fight by-elections given they were no longer representing Labour.
And Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest union backer, Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey branded them “splitters”.
But the move drew widespread private support from Labour MPs who admit dozens have considered leaving the party over its lurch to the hard-left and its failure to tackle anti-Semitism.
The breakaway revived memories of the SDP split in 1981, when a “Gang of Four” Labour moderates led by Roy Jenkins and David Owen left to form a centrist party.
HOW THE HISTORIC SPLIT HAPPENED
Sources claimed that both Mr Umunna and Mr Leslie have been working on their plans since last summer when MPs were first approached about quitting.
Mr Leslie, a former Shadow Treasury Secretary, is understood to have coordinated plans through a WhatsApp group dubbed the “Birthday Club”.
One insider said: “It all went quiet on there a few days back so it was obvious something was up.”
The first public signs that a new breakaway was imminent came when Chris Leslie stunned People’s Vote campaigners at a Brexit meeting last month. Responding to Jeremy Corbyn’s failure once more to back a second referendum he snapped “let’s just f**k off”.
Sources said that some had hoped as many as 30 Labour MPs would walk out but that the splinter group was already riven by disagreements over the best way forward. One said more could switch once the Brexit vote takes place at the end of March.
Others said they believed the Lib Dems could “fold into” the new group. One source said Lib Dem leader Vince Cable had even suggested a name: “The Confederation”.
On Monday he said the Labour split was not “unwelcome” and he would be willing to campaign alongside the seven.
WHO ELSE COULD QUIT
At Monday night’s Westminster meeting of Labour MPs, Leave-backing backbencher Ian Austin was among those refusing to rule out quitting.
Condemning Mr Corbyn’s response to events he said: “If that is the best the leadership can do then I think it will result in people thinking long and hard about their position in the Labour Party.”
Ruth Smeeth, a victim of anti-Semitic abuse, broke down in tears as she slammed the leadership for failing to defend Jewish MPs.
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She told Labour chair Ian Lavery an activist who said she didn’t have “human blood” was still in the party.
Labour MP Louise Ellman said Mr Lavery had only “played lip service to anti-Semitism” and showed absolutely no recognition of the scale of the crisis engulfing Labour.
Mr Lavery insisted there would be nobody more disappointed than Mr Corbyn that the seven MPs were leaving.
One Labour backbencher paused – and replied: “Bullshit.”
WHO ARE THE INDEPENDENT GROUP