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UK's Opposition Suffers Jolt as 7 MPs Split from Labour Party over Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit Approach

Veteran Indian-origin Labour Party MP Virendra Sharma said he sympathised with his colleagues who took the extreme decision to leave but called for unity within the party.


Updated:February 18, 2019, 8:55 PM IST
Jeremy Corbyn
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. (AP photo)

London: Britain's Opposition Labour Party suffered a jolt on Monday as seven anti-Brexit MPs quit the party in protest against its leader Jeremy Corbyn's approach to issues including Brexit and anti-Semitism.

MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey held a press conference in London to tell reporters that they would sit as a separate independent group within Parliament.

"This morning we have all now resigned from the Labour Party. This has been a very difficult, painful, but necessary decision," said Berger, who is Jewish herself and been very vocal about anti-semitism within the Labour party.

"I cannot remain in the party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is anti-semitic. I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation," she said.

In her statement on behalf of the group, she said the seven MPs represented different parts of the UK, different backgrounds and generations who share the same values.

"From today, we will all sit in Parliament as a new independent group of MPs," she said.

Veteran Indian-origin Labour Party MP Virendra Sharma said he sympathised with his colleagues who took the extreme decision to leave but called for unity within the party.

"I absolutely understand the frustration of these former colleagues, some of whom I consider friends, I too want to see a clearer Labour Party commitment to the EU and to a People's Vote as is Labour Party policy," he said.

"However, I totally believe that the Labour Party should remain united and together and that splitting in this way undermines our chances of securing the best relationship with the EU and the best government for Britain," Sharma said.

The MPs who all back another EU referendum, or People's Vote, have said they do not plans to launch a new political party at this stage.

On the new website of the so-called "Independent Group", the MPs set out their approach to the economy, public services and security, as well as Brexit, saying their aim was to "pursue policies that are evidence-based, rather than led by ideology".

The move marks the biggest split in Labour since a so-called "gang of four" senior figures left the party in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

"Politics is broken. It doesn't have to be this way. Let's change it," said Umunna, once a frontrunner for the post of Labour leader.

He called on others to join the group, indicating their move to split from the party must inspire a new movement.

"We invite you to leave your parties and help us forge a new consensus on a way forward for Britain," he said.

Fellow MP Chris Leslie accused the party of "betraying" the country over Brexit because it had been "hijacked" by the far Left.

"I'm furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit, which will cause great economic, social and political damage to our country," said Gapes, another MP from the group of seven resignations.

Many of the MPs within the Opposition support campaigning for a second referendum to allow the British public another say over Brexit, as the March 29 deadline for

Britain's exit from the European Union (EU) nears without a deal acceptable to the UK Parliament insight from the ongoing Conservative Party-led government's negotiations.

Gapes said it was "increasingly clear that prominent figures in the Corbyn Labour leadership do not want to stop Brexit", leading to the anti-Brexiters to quit.

Corbyn said he was "disappointed" the MPs had felt unable to continue working for the policies that "inspired millions" during the 2017 General Election.

"The Conservative Government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan," he said in a statement.

"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," he said.

Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the "honourable thing" for the group of seven to do would be to stand down and fight by-elections.

"We shouldn't splinter in this way. It is better to remain in the party, fight your corner," he said.

Other senior Labour figures, including former leader Ed Miliband and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, expressed their dismay at the split, with Khan saying on social media that the seven MPs were friends of his but he would not be joining their new group and it was a "desperately sad day".

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the split was "not unexpected, or unwelcome" and his party was open to "working with like-minded groups and individuals in order to give the people the final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU".

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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