Seven Labour MPs have quit the the party in protest over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Brexit and failure to tackle antisemitism within the party.
Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey resigned the Labour whip and formed a Parliamentary coalition called ‘The Independent Group’.
At a press conference announcing the decision, MP Luciana Berger said she was ’embarrassed and ashamed’ to be part of a party that is ‘institutionally antisemitic’.
The MP for Liverpool and Wavertree is a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour and has been at the centre of a party dispute in recent weeks.
The Jewish MP, who is nine months pregnant, has been threatened with deselection by her local party after speaking out against her party’s leader.
She 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.”
MP Mike Gapes, who joined Labour as a 16-year-old, accused the party of being antisemitic and ‘complicit in facilitating Brexit’.
— The Independent Group (@TheIndGroup) February 18, 2019
He said: “I’m sickened that Labour is now a racist, anti-semitic party.
“Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side of so many international issues from Russia to Syria to Venezuela.
“The Corbyn government would threaten our security and international alliances.”
This morning I have resigned from the Labour Party after fifty years. It has been a great privilege and honour to serve my constituents for 27 years, I intend to continue to represent them as a member of the new Independent Group of Members of Parliament #ChangePolitics pic.twitter.com/wFhJTfO33M
— Mike Gapes (@MikeGapes) February 18, 2019
Ann Coffey told the press conference: “I thought I would be in the Labour Party for the rest of my life.”“But political parties are not an end in themselves in a parliamentary democracy. The Labour Party has lost sight of this, it is no longer a broad church.
“Any criticism of the leadership is responded to with abuse and accusations of treachery. Anti-Semitism is rife and tolerated.”
Chukka Umunna called on MPs from other parties to join their movement.
He said: “We invite you to leave your parties and join us in forging a new consensus.”
The MP said that the group could vote with the Tories in future and would decide whether to do so on an issue-by-issue basis.
What has the reaction been?
Jeremy Corbyn responded to the news, saying: “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.
“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 face 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.”
On social media some of the reaction has been significantly more hostile, including from the Young Labour Twitter account who implied that the seven MPs were ‘cowards and traitors’.
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.
— Young Labour (@YoungLabourUK) February 18, 2019
Labour’s Jon Ashworth said that the move would keep the Conservatives 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
Many others expressed sadness and disappointment over the split, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lucy Powell, who expressed sadness over the departure of her ‘friend’ Luciana Berger.
I deeply regret the decision of my former colleagues to leave Labour. Labour's values are still my values and a Labour government is the best hope for the country we need. Labour must and will continue to be a broad church as it has always been.
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) February 18, 2019
I’m particularly sad about my friend, Luciana. She has been subject to despicable and appalling abuse and antisemtism by some in our Party. Her leaving must make us redouble our efforts to tackle all antisemitism in the Party.
— Lucy Powell MP (@LucyMPowell) February 18, 2019