The Independent Group: Cabinet ministers back new centre-ground movement, claim Tory defectors

Heidi Allen MP claimed the new grouping have support of ‘ministers at all levels’ after she and two other Conservatives quit their party

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 20 February 2019 18:48
Rebel MPs from Independent Group arrive in Commons ahead of PMQs

The new centre-ground Independent Group made up of former Labour and Tory MPs enjoys backing within Theresa May’s cabinet, it was claimed today.

Heidi Allen MP said the grouping have the support of “ministers at all levels” after she and two other Conservative colleagues quit their party to join up.

Ms Allen’s claim comes after home secretary Amber Rudd, who has threatened to resign in the event of a no-deal Brexit, made sympathetic statements about the MPs who had left her party.

In comments likely to enrage other former Tory colleagues, Ms Allen also indicated the new group could not only bring down the government, but aimed to see the destruction of the Conservative Party.

She and others in the group said there could be further resignations from both Tory and Labour parties in the coming days, with one Labour member openly admitting she agreed with much of what the new group stood for.

Ms Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston crossed the floor from the Tory benches to join the Independent Group shortly before prime minister’s questions, but also held a series of press events throughout the day.

With the group now numbering 11, as many MPs as the Liberal Democrats, Ms Allen told a Westminster briefing: “There are sympathetic ministers at all levels.”

Hours earlier Ms Rudd had posted on Twitter that it was a “great shame” to have “lost the commitment and undeniable talent of three Conservative colleagues”.

She then went on: “I look forward to continuing to work with them on a number of important issues, including a Brexit deal that works for the whole country.”

The tweet led to speculation that Ms Rudd could consider joining the group at some stage, with her previously having indicated she could resign her job if Ms May pursued a no-deal Brexit.

If we do our jobs right, there won’t be a Tory Party to go back to. We are about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre-ground of British politics

Ex-Tory MP Heidi Allen

Ms Allen said there were Tory MPs who were keenly interested in joining the group but “we can’t bring the government down right now” because of Brexit.

Asked if she could envisage returning to the Tories in future, she told reporters at Westminster: “I can’t imagine it, I just can’t. Not least because, if we do our jobs right, there won’t be a Tory Party to go back to.

“We are about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre-ground of British politics, that people out there – I am convinced, we are convinced – want.”

In a joint statement, the three MPs leaving the Tories said they had wanted their party to broaden its appeal to young people and reflect the diversity of British communities.

'Anti-EU squad that have destroyed every leader for 40 years now running the Conservative Party,' says Anna Soubry

They indicated that their frustration with Ms May had instead been exacerbated by her reliance on the support of the Brexiteer-dominated European Research Group, headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, and her Northern Irish DUP partners in government.

The three MPs said: “Sadly the Conservative Party has increasingly abandoned these principles 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 the DUP.”

They said that the “final straw” was what they claimed had been the government’s “disastrous” handling of Brexit with “red lines” that alienated almost half of the population.

Among other names being talked about as possible defectors were Conservatives Nick Boles, Philip Lee and Jonathan Djanogly.

James Cleverly reacts live on air to news that three Conservative MPs have left party to join Independent Group

On the Labour side, Siobhain McDonagh, Jess Phillips, Ian Austin and Ian Murray are among those thought to be possible defectors in future.

Ms Phillips said: “I was born Labour and I felt like I’d die Labour but when I listen to my colleagues speaking, as they did before they left, I found it very hard to disagree with a lot of what they were saying.

“So now I pass that baton on to Jeremy Corbyn and expect him to really listen and take action. If those people don’t feel welcome in the Labour Party any more, we have a problem.

“If people like me are made to feel unwelcome going forward then, of course, you have to think, has the party left you behind?”

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