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Seven Blairite MPs – Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey, and Luciana Berger – have quit the Labour Party, citing differences over Brexit, economic policy, and the party’s handling of the antisemitism row.
The seven will now sit in Parliament as a pro-Remain group of independent MPs under the title ‘The Independent Group‘.
Speaking at a hastily organised event in London, Luciana Berger – the now independent MP for Wavertree – said that she had become “embarrassed and ashamed to remain in the Labour Party“, adding:
“I have not changed. The core values of equality for all, opportunity for all, anti-racism against all, and social justice – the values that 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 interest.
“I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally antisemitic.”
Whilst Mike Gapes – the now independent MP for Ilford South – said that he was “sickened that the Labour Party is now a racist, anti-Semitic party“, and he was “furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit”, adding:
“Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side on so many international issues, from Russia to Syria to Venezuela.
“A Corbyn Labour government would threaten our national security and international alliances.”
Despite resigning from Labour, all seven MPs are refusing to trigger by-elections in the their local constituencies.
Responding the the announcement, the Labour Party leader Jeremy 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
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 Tories are 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.”
The group of splitters have already received significant criticism from numerous former Labour colleagues, with the Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, accused them of simply helping the Tories stay in power, tweeting:
“Sit as independents, vote as independents, fight elections as independents and then independently help the Tories stay in power”
Sit as independents, vote as independents, fight elections as independents and then independently help the Tories stay in power
— Jonathan Ashworth (@JonAshworth) February 18, 2019
Whilst writing on Facebook, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, accused the group of “engaging in […] distracting and divisive” politics that would ultimately only “make a Tory Brexit more likely, not less“.