Posted on: Reuters | February 19th, 2019
Seven Labour lawmakers quit on Monday over leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and a row over anti-Semitism, saying Britain’s main opposition party had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”.
In a direct challenge to Corbyn, the seven centrist MPs said they were courting others from across parliament to join their group, saying “enough is enough” in keeping silent over their doubts about the Labour leader’s fitness for office.
United by a desire for a second referendum on Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, they acknowledged that their resignations would not change the arithmetic in parliament, where there is as yet no majority for such a vote.
But their move underlines the increasing frustration within Labour over Corbyn’s reluctance to change his Brexit strategy – the leftist leader and long-time critic of the EU has stuck to his preference for a new election or his plan to leave the bloc.
With only 39 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit have fragmented British politics, breaking down traditional party lines and creating new ad hoc coalitions.
“The Labour party we joined that we campaigned for and believed in is no longer today’s Labour Party … it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left,” lawmaker Chris Leslie told a news conference.
“Evidence of Labour’s betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see. Offering to actually enable this government’s Brexit – constantly holding back from allowing the public a final say.”
The seven lawmakers are Leslie, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey. They will continue to sit as members of parliament under the banner “The Independent Group”.
They may only be the start of a bigger exodus, a Labour source close to the group said. That, critics say, could splinter the party and hand almost certain victory to the governing Conservatives in any new election.
Corbyn expressed his disappointment that the group had left, referring in a statement to “Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election” when the opposition party saw its biggest increase in vote share since 1945 to win 262 seats.
His finance policy chief, John McDonnell, called on the lawmakers to “stand down” and try to win back their seat in parliament. The local branch for Labour in Umunna’s constituency asked him to call a so-called by-election.
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