Cracks in Britain’s political party system yawned wider Wednesday as three pro-European lawmakers quit the governing Conservatives to join a newly formed centrist group of legislators.
The new faction, called the Independent Group, is opposed to the government’s handling of Brexit and Labour’s failure to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party.
MPs Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston said they will join eight ex-opposition Labour Party lawmakers in the new group.
In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, the trio accused the Conservative Party of abandoning the political center ground, and said “the final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.”
Britain is scheduled to split from the EU on March 29 and still has not reached a deal for its departure.
The three lawmakers accused the government of “recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal.”
“It is with regret that we are writing to resign the Conservative whip and our membership of the party,” they said.
'We can no longer act as bystanders. We are honour bound to put our constituents’ and country’s interests first.' Read the letter to the Prime Minister from @heidiallen75 @Anna_Soubry and @sarahwollaston #ChangePolitics pic.twitter.com/1HxHOULbft
— The Independent Group (@TheIndGroup) February 20, 2019
May said she was saddened by the decision, but said the government was “doing the right thing for our country” by implementing voters’ decision to leave the EU.
The eight Labour rebels quit the party this week over its direction under left-wing party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who took charge in 2015 with strong grassroots backing.
They have accused him of mounting a weak opposition to the Conservative government’s plans for leaving the European Union, and of failing to stamp out anti-Jewish prejudice in the party.
Labour lawmakers last week sent an angry letter to Corbyn over what they described as a lackluster response from the party’s leadership to lawmakers’ calls for transparency over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.
The quitters are only a fraction of Labour’s 256 lawmakers, but it is the biggest split in the party since four senior members quit in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party.
The defections mark the biggest shakeup in years for Britain’s political parties. There have long been signs that voters’ 2016 decision to leave the EU could spark a major overhaul of British politics, because Brexit has split both the Conservatives and Labour down the middle into feuding pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings.
The breakaway lawmakers hope to gain members from among disgruntled pro-Europeans in both the Labour and Conservative parties, with a view to forging a new force in the center of British politics.