Three Tory MPs have defected the party to join the breakaway “centreground” Independent Group founded by former Labour MPs.
Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen today said that the Tories had lurched to the right and were pursuing a hard Brexit to appease the hardline ERG group and the DUP.
The Independent Group was formed on Monday by seven former Labour MPs, including Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger and Chris Leslie.
Joan Ryan became the eighth MP to quit Labour and join the group on Tuesday night. The Labour MPs said that they felt it necessary to leave Labour because of the leadership’s Brexit policy and failure to tackle anti-semitism in the party.
In a letter to the prime minister, the three Tory MPs wrote: “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 DUP.
“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.”
“Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up ‘red lines’,” they said. “The 48% were not only sidelined, they were alienated.
“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”
In a statement, May registered her disappointed by the decision of the three to quit the party. “I am saddened by this decision – these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it,” she said.
“Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy.”
The group said they intended to sit as independents, like the eight MPs who have also quit the Labour. “There will be times when we will support the government, for example, on measures to strengthen our economy, security and improve our public services,” the three MPs said.
“We will continue to work constructively, locally and nationally, on behalf of our constituents.”
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.