Labour rocked as seven MPs quit and set up 'The Independent Group'
Seven Labour MPs have dramatically quit the party to set up a new bloc called 'The Independent Group', as they took aim at Jeremy Corbyn's handling of anti-semitism and Brexit.
MPs Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes and Anne Coffey all confirmed that they were resigning the Labour whip at a dramatic press conference in Westminster on Monday morning.
Ms Berger said: "This morning we have all now resigned from the Labour Party. This has been a very difficult, painful but necessary decision.
"We represent different parts of the country. We are of different backgrounds. We were born of different generations, but we all share the same values. From today, we will all sit in Parliament as a new independent group of MPs."
The move follows months of bitterness in the Labour Party over Mr Corbyn’s position on Brexit and claims that the leadership has been too slow to deal with members accused of anti-Jewish abuse.
The Labour leader said he was "disappointed" at the seven MPs' decision to leave the fold - as a party source challenged them to quit as MPs to test their support in by-elections.
Ms Berger, a Jewish MP whose local Labour party recently shelved planned no-confidence votes in her following an outcry from her colleagues, said she had "become embarrassed and ashamed to remain in the Labour Party" over anti-semitism.
"I have not changed," she said in an emotional statement.
"The core values of equality for all, opportunity of all, and anti-racism against all, and social justice - the values 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 interests."
Ms Berger added: "I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic.
"It is nearly a year ago that we saw the unprecedented event where a minority community, the Jewish community, taking to Parliament square to demonstrate the Labour party to say enough is enough.
"And yet since then, despite a mountain of evidence, we have only seen the situation of racism against Jewish people get worse. The leadership has wilfully and repeatedly failed to address hatred against Jewish people within its ranks.
"And it is for these reasons and many more that I have made this decision today.
"I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation. I look forward to a future serving with colleagues who respect each other and who are committed to working together for our great country."
That was echoed by fellow former frontbencher Chris Leslie, who said his decision to quit had not been "easy" - and claimed the party had been "hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left"
He said: "We’ve all been Labour Members of Parliament for many years, in my case for more than three decades, but the Labour party we joined, that we campaigned for and believed in, is no longer today’s Labour party.
"We did everything we could to save it. But it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left.
"As Luciana said, our values haven’t changed. We absolutely oppose this Conservative government and desperately want an alternative which tackles the barriers of poverty and discrimination by extending opportunities for all.
"But British politics is now well and truly broken, and in all conscience, we can no longer knock on doors and support a government led by Jeremy Corbyn or the team around him."
Mr Lesliea ccused the Labour leader - who has so far stopped short of backing a second referendum on Brexit and held out the prospect of supporting a softened version of Theresa May's deal - of working to "enable" Britain's departure from the EU.
"The evidence of Labour’s betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see," he said.
"Offering to actually enable this government’s Brexit. Constantly holding back from allowing the public a final say. Conference policy has beee cast aside. No guaranteed full participation in the single market any more. No exact same benefits. No movement towards a people’s vote.
"Choosing to stand by while our constituents’ lives and future opportunities are hurt by Brexit is a fundamental violation of Labour’s traditional values."
'REACH ACROSS OUTDATED DIVIDES'
In statement, the new group vowed to stand for a "diverse, mixed social market economy", and "progressive values" that had been "been abandoned by today’s Labour Party".
In a direct call for MPs in other parties to join them, the group said: "Our primary duty as Members of Parliament is to put the best interests of our constituents and our country first. Yet like so many others, we believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country.
"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 interests.
"As an Independent Group we aim to recognise the value of healthy debate, show tolerance towards different opinions and seek to reach across outdated divides and build consensus to tackle Britain’s problems."
As rumours of a split swirled around Westminster this weekend, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell warned MPs against a breakaway.
The frontbencher told the BBC: "It would be like the 1980s. In my constituency in Hayes and Harlington we had a Labour MP join the SDP and we lost the seat to the Conservatives.
"And it basically installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade.
"I don’t think any of the people who have even been mentioned around this split would want that."