Jeremy Corbyn is 'disappointed' by seven Labour MPs quitting party to set up Independent Group

Party reacts to most significant breakaway since Social Democratic Party formed in early 1980s

Samuel Osborne
Monday 18 February 2019 13:02
Luciana Berger announces Labour MPs quitting to form Independent Group

Jeremy Corbyn has said he is “disappointed” after seven of his MPs decided to quit the Labour party in protest at his leadership over Brexit.

The Labour leader made the comments after Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Chuka Umunna also criticised his handling of allegations of antisemitism.

They announced they would sit in the House of Commons as independents under the banner of “The Independent Group”, in a move representing the most significant split in the party since the breakaway of the Social Democratic Party in the early 1980s.

Announcing their move at a press conference at London’s County Hall, Mr Leslie, a former shadow chancellor, said Labour had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”, while Ms Berger said she had come to the “sickening” conclusion the party is now “institutionally antisemitic”.

Mr Corbyn said: ”I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.”

He added: “Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few – redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change.

“The Conservative government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan. When millions are facing the misery of Universal Credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry posted on Facebook to say Labour “should not and will not be distracted and divided” by the defections of seven MPs.

She said: “If you criticise or abuse these individuals, if you impugn their motives, and if you encourage any others to join them, you are helping them not hurting them, because you are taking your eyes off the prize and allowing our movement to be distracted and divided, which is exactly what they want.

“The only thing that anyone should do in response to the action of these MPs today is to respectfully and politely ask them a simple question: Do they intend to put up candidates in Labour-Tory marginals, and split the Labour vote?”

Ms Thornberry questioned whether the Independent Group would stand in Labour-Tory marginals, adding: “Because if they do, we all know that the only effect of their actions will be to keep the Tories in power for another generation, and make a Tory Brexit more likely, not less, the one thing that everyone in our movement should be pledged to avoid.”

Brexiteer Labour MP Kate Hoey tweeted to say all seven of those resigning this morning were “prepared to completely ignore the result of the referendum - indeed most of them have spent their time in the chamber doing everything they could to stop Brexit”.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted: “I deeply regret the decision of my former colleagues to leave Labour. Labour’s values are still my values and a Labour government is the best hope for the country we need. Labour must and will continue to be a broad church as it has always been.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “I’m deeply saddened to see colleagues leave the Labour Party. We must remain united in the fight for our party’s values of internationalism and equality for all. That is the only way to bring an end to this Tory government and deliver the change our country so desperately needs.”

Chris Leslie: 'British politics is now well and truly broken'

As the MPs announced their departure, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, whose new Brexit Party launched earlier this year, tweeted: “This moment may not look very exciting but it is the beginning of something bigger in British politics #realignment.”

Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted: “Politics is about how you fight for a better future & values that keep you going through storms and sunshine, not who you hate & the badges that you wear. As someone Labour to my core who never ducks a fight I know today Labour has to learn from what’s happened, and not lash out.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, who himself left Labour for the SDP in 1982, tweeted: “It is not unexpected, or unwelcome, that a group of Labour MPs have decided to break away from Corbyn’s Labour; in part motivated by his refusal to follow the party’s policy on Brexit. #LabourSplit.”

He added: “The Liberal Democrats are open to working with like-minded groups and individuals in order to give the people the final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU. We will be engaging in talks to progress both that campaign and a wider political agenda. #LabourSplit.”

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Ms Berger initially accidentally introduced herself as “the Labour party MP”, before correcting herself and saying: “I am the member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree”.

She said: “This morning we have all now resigned from the Labour party. This has been a very difficult, painful, but necessary decision.

“We represent different parts of the country, we are of different backgrounds, we were born of different generations, but we all share the same values.

“From today, we will all sit in Parliament as a new independent group of MPs.”

Mr Leslie said: “The Labour party that we joined that we campaigned for and believed in is no longer today’s Labour Party. We did everything we could to save it, but it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left.

“Evidence of Labour’s betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see. Offering to actually enable this government’s Brexit, constantly holding back from allowing the public a final say.”

The group issued an appeal to MPs from both Labour and other parties to “leave the old tribal politics behind” and join their new grouping.

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