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Tory MP Says BNP Is A Better Fit For Natalie Elphicke Than Labour

Keir Starmer has faced a backlash from his own MPs after Natalie Elphicke defected to Labour (Alamy)

3 min read

Conservative MP Mark Garnier has said he would have better understood Natalie Elphicke's decision to defect from his party if she had chosen “Reform or the BNP” rather than Labour.

Elphicke, the MP for Dover, defected from the Conservatives to Labour on Wednesday arguing that the governing party had "become a byword for incompetence and division", while she believed Keir Starmer's party had "changed out of all recognition" since the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who stood down in 2020.

The move surprised MPs on both sides of the House of Commons as Elphicke, a former member of the Tory Common Sense Group, is known for belonging to the further right wing of the party, and holds hardline views on immigration. She had previously accused Labour of advocating for "open borders".

Garnier, the MP for Wyre Forest, told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown that it was “completely surreal” to see Elphicke make a surprise appearance on the Labour benches ahead of Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday, and found her decision was “very, very strange” given she was one of the Tories’ “most right-wing politicians”.

“Had she gone to Reform or the BNP we would have kind of understood it, but it was very, very strange,” he added. 

The former trade minister said he couldn’t think of a single other Tory who he felt was less likely to have defected to Labour.

Starmer's admittance of Elphicke led to a backlash among Labour MPs, with one admitting to PoliticsHome that they felt uneasy about the former Tory joining their side.

Former shadow minister Jess Phillips said seeing Elphicke join her party felt "a bit like being punched in the gut”, citing her previous support for her ex-husband Charlie Elphicke after he was found guilty of sexual assaulting two women.

Elphicke had previously described her husband's conviction a "terrible miscarriage of justice”, but on Thursday apologised for the remarks. "The period of 2017-2020 was an incredibly stressful and difficult one for me as I learned more about the person I thought I knew," she said in a statement. 

“I know it was far harder for the women who had to relive their experiences and give evidence against him.”

But Christabel Cooper, director of research at campaign group LabourTogether, felt that the defection was ultimately more damaging for the government. "In the end, you just have to see this as a huge embarrassment for Rishi Sunak,” she told PoliticsHome

Elphicke's move marks the second defection from the Conservatives to Labour in the space of two weeks. Last month, Dan Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and an NHS doctor, quit the Tories for Starmer's party over the state of the health service.

Cooper said the situation showed the Conservatives “will be going into the next election with a Prime Minister who really does not appear to be in control of his own party”.

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