Seven Labour MPs have resigned from the party and formed “The Independent Group” this morning.
The MPs include Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey, blaming Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Brexit and the antisemitism issue plaguing the party for their split.
Speaking at the event, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree Luciana Berger said: “From today, we will all sit in parliament as a new, independent group of MPs.
“I have become embarrassed and ashamed to remain in the Labour Party. I cannot remain in a party that is institutionally antisemitic.”
Through the conference, the seven Independent MPs challenged their former party, blasting the Labour Party as “racist and anti-Semitic” in a number of separate speeches.
Chris Lesley, MP for Nottingham East, said: “It’s not been an easy decision for any of us [to leave], but the Labour Party we joined, that we campaigned for and believed in, is no longer today’s Labour Party.
“It’s now been hijacked by the machine politics of the left.
“There is a culture of intolerance, closing down of debate, abuse and hatred as we’ve seen online, and antisemitism.”
He closed his speech adding: “We have no choice but to say collectively; enough is enough.”
Mike Gapes MP blasted Corbyn, saying: “I joined the Labour Party more than 50 years ago. I am sickened that the Party is now a racist, antisemitic party.
“Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side of so many international issues, from Russia to Syria, to Venezuela.
“This is personally very difficult for me, but I must be true to myself and my values. It’s been a great privilege to serve my fantastic constituents and I intend to continue to represent them.”
The Independent MPs criticised the current political climate, arguing all current parties abandon ‘millions of voters’ and ignore different Brexit outcomes. Chuka Umunna, one of the most prominent MPs in the new group, regularly faces the ‘Peoples Vote’ campaign and spoke to hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Westminster last October during the Peoples Vote March.
Chris Lesley MP said: “British politics is now well and truly broken, and in all conscience we cannot knock on doors and support Jeremy Corbyn and the team around him.”
During the conference Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement addressing the resignations.
He 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.
“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 future for us all.”
Mr Umunna MP called on MPs from other parties to resign and join the Independent Group, taking aim at the divisive Brexit environment and a rejection of party politics.
Addressing MPs from other parties, he said:” We invite you to leave your parties and forge a new political consensus for Britain. The established parties can’t be the change [the UK needs], because they are the problem.”
Responding to questions on what the group will focus on, a statement released by The Independent Group reads: “Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interest.
“As an Independent Group we aim to recognise the value of healthy debate, show tolerance towards different opinions and seek to reach across the outdated divides and build consensus to tackle Britain’s problems.”
Despite the split, The Independent Group is not a political party, and is currently registered as a private company, avoiding electoral law rules that would require them to declare financial backers.
The Group is set to “hold meetings in the coming days” to assign official roles, such as a potential leader, and talks on creating a political party.
Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan released a statement describing the split as “a desperately sad day”, before adding “when the Labour Party splits it only leads to one outcome – a Tory government – and that means a hard Tory Brexit.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged voters to join the SNP, while leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Vince Cable said he will work with “like-minded” MPs.
Chairman of the Conservative party Brandon Lewis said: “The resignations and speeches today confirm that the Labour Party has changed irreversibly under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
“Labour has become the Jeremy Corbyn Party – failing to take action on everything from tackling anti-Jewish racism to keeping our country safe.”
Following the death of Labour MP Paul Flynn and the seven resignations this morning, the Labour Party now has 248 MPs – down from yesterday’s 256. The Conservative Party has 317 MPs.