Keir Starmer faces criticism over decision to accept Natalie Elphicke into Labour

Sir Keir Starmer has come under fire over his decision to accept Tory defector Natalie Elphicke into the Labour party.

The Dover and Deal MP crossed the floor of the House just before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, to the surprise of many in Westminster given her previous attacks on Labour’s immigration policies.

Elphicke hit out at “unelected” Rishi Sunak’s “tired and chaotic Government” and failure to deliver on his promise to stop migrants arriving in the UK via the Channel as she defected on Wednesday.

But the move has created a stir inside the Labour party with renowned leftwinger - and one-time shadow chancellor - John McDonnell telling LBC: “I’m a great believer in the powers of conversion but I think even this one would have strained the generosity of spirit of John the Baptist.”

Former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke previously mocked Sir Keir Starmer by calling him ‘Sir Softie’ (PA Wire)
Former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke previously mocked Sir Keir Starmer by calling him ‘Sir Softie’ (PA Wire)

Only a year ago, Elphicke used a newspaper column to claim “not only have Labour got no plan of their own to tackle illegal immigration, they simply do not want to” and “seems intent” on creating legal loopholes for illegal migrants.

She said Sir Keir, whom she mocked then as “Sir Softie”, “has pledged to rip up our world-leading partnership to remove illegal migrants to Rwanda”.

Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock told BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster: “I think we have got to be choosy to a degree about who we allow to join our party because it’s a very broad church but churches have walls and there are limits.

“Mrs Elphicke has got to decide whether she is committed to the programme and principles of the Labour Party, broadly defined, generously defined with great liberal intentions, but we are a political party and not a debating club.”

Labour MP Mick Whitley also quipped that Elphicke’s values “are not the values of the Labour movement”.

He continued: “It’s outrageous that she should be allowed to join the Labour benches while principled socialists like Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn still haven’t had the whip restored.”

MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke (PA Archive)
MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke (PA Archive)

There has also been criticism of Mrs Elphicke’s previous remarks regarding her husband’s conviction for sex offences.

But Labour party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said she had not been contacted by anyone with concerns about the decision to welcome Elphicke to the party.

She told Sky News: “I think actually what we’ve seen here is reflective of the situation up and down the country.

“They believe many promises were made, as indeed again Natalie Elphicke herself referred to, particularly in that 2019 manifesto, promises that were made around housebuilding, around public services, around migration, policies and promises that have just not been held to, where there’s not been delivery, and it’s been ordinary people who’ve paid the price.”

Sir Keir has also come under fire from the Tories for accepting an MP who is “so far removed from the values of his party”.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho described the defection as astonishing especially since “most people would probably put Natalie at the right of the right of our party.”

She told ITV: “To be honest I think it actually spoke a bit more about Keir Starmer's principles, that he would adopt someone who's so far removed from the values of his party.

"And if you look at everything Natalie Elphicke has said over the past year, she speaks her mind, it's actually something I admire about her, she's very frank with her views.

“We know that she doesn't chime with Labour values, we know that she doesn't believe in Keir Starmer's abilities to be tough on immigration which is what her constituents want.

“So I think it was actually just another example of Keir Starmer having very few principles."

Natalie Elphicke has defected to Labour from the Tories (PA Media)
Natalie Elphicke has defected to Labour from the Tories (PA Media)

The Dover MP has not shied away from controversy in the past. She previously engaged in a public spat with Marcus Rashford, suggesting the footballer should have spent more time “perfecting his game” than “playing politics” after he missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final.

She later apologised, but shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, her new colleague, was so incensed by her comment she said the then-Tory MP should “f*** off”.

Elphicke entered Parliament as Dover’s Conservative MP in 2019, an opportunity that itself emerged from scandal.

She succeeded her disgraced ex-husband, Charlie Elphicke, who was jailed for two years after being convicted in 2020 of three counts of sexual assault on two women.

She had defended her husband for two-and-a-half years after the allegations emerged and accompanied him hand-in-hand into Southwark Crown Court throughout the trial.

But minutes after the jury returned guilty verdicts, she announced to the world on social media that their 25-year marriage was over.

Elphicke also reportedly said after the conviction that her husband had been punished for being “attractive and attracted to women”.

She is standing down at the general election but could take on an unpaid role working on housing policy with Labour.