Westminster stunned as three anti-Brexit Tory MPs quit and join the Independent Group
Three Conservative MPs have stunned Westminster by quitting the party as they took aim at Theresa May's handling of Brexit and accused the Tories of a "shift to the right".
The Remain-supporting trio of Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston confirmed on Wednesday that they had quit the party to join the new Independent Group of ex-Labour MPs, and blamed the Prime Minister's EU stance as well as a clash with longstanding "principles and values" for their decision.
In a joint letter to Theresa May released just an hour before she took the weekly round of Prime Minister's Questions, the MPs hit out at the influence of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, declaring: "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."
They added: "Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party - undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy."
The move, which takes the number of Independent Group MPs to 11, came just hours after MP Joan Ryan joined seven of her former Labour colleagues who quit the party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership earlier this week to set up the Indpendent Group.
In a further blow for Mrs May, the group of ex-Tory MPs accused her of sending the Conservative modernisation project into reverse, saying they had backed her "because we believed you were committed to a moderate, open-hearted Conservative Party in the One Nation tradition".
The Prime Minister said she was "saddened" by their decision, as the group made history by crossing the floor of the House of Commons to take up their seats next to the former Labour MPs.
The group said: "We had hoped you would also continue to modernise our party so that it could reach out and broaden its appeal to younger voters and to embrace and reflect the diversity of the communities we seek to represent.
"Sadly the Conservative party has increasinlgy abandoned these principles and values with a shift to the right of British politics."
The MPs, who have all faced local party pressure over their opposition to Brexit, said: "This shift to the right has been exacerbated by blatant entryism.
"Not only has this been tolerated, it has been actively welcomed in some quarters. A purple momentum is subsuming the Conservatives party, much as the hard left has been alloweed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour party."
'MOVE FORWARDS TOGETHER'
Responding to the departure of the three Remain-backing MPs, the Prime Minister vowed to continue to push for "decent, moderate and patriotic politics".
Mrs May said: "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.
"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.
"But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future."
"I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve.”
Conservative deputy chairman James Cleverly told the BBC it was "very sad and disappointing" that trio of Tory MPs had decided to quit, but said they had been "publicly very uncomfortable" with Brexit for some time.
Arch-Brexiteer Tory MP David Davies meanwhile told TalkRadio: “Well it doesn’t really come as a surprise, because they’ve been sitting as semi-independent MPs for quite some time now.
"It’s certainly not going to make any difference to the votes on Brexit because none of them were committed to it in the first place, although of course they all stood on manifestos as did the Labour MPs committing themselves to Brexit.”