Party facing split over Brexit
Seven Labour MPs resign in protest at Corbyn policies
Jeremy Corbyn addressing a union rally in Glasgow two years ago (pic: Terry Murden)
Seven Labour MPs have resigned from the party as a protest against leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism.
Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey announced they will sit as an independent group and are not seeking at this stage to launch a new party.
There was speculation that more Labour MPs will resign the whip and that the ‘gang of seven’ will trigger a similar realignment of British politics that took place in the 1980s when four Labour MPs left the party and later merged with the Liberal Party. Two Conservative MPs are said to be considering whether to join the seven.
Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray said he was sticking with Labour but “may change his mind” unless the party responded to concerns about its culture and direction.
Mr Corbyn, who is now facing a growing crisis of confidence in his party, said: “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 and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.
“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 Conservative Government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan. When millions are facing 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.”
Ms Berger said Labour had become institutionally anti-Semitic and she was “embarrassed and ashamed” to stay. Chuka Umunna said they had “taken the first step” and urged other Labour MPs – and members of other parties – to join them in “building a new politics”.
Speaking at the briefing he said: “Politics is broken, it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s change it.”
He said there would be “no merger” with the Liberal Democrats and the group wanted to “build a new alternative”.
Chris Leslie said the seven would have its first formal meeting “in a few days” time to “assign roles and responsibilities”.
In his Daily Business column Brian Monteith forecast a Labour split following Corbyn’s letter to Theresa May
The group rejected comparisons with the SDP, saying it was a different era and they would not be contesting by-elections.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the split in the Labour party will strengthen Theresa May while showing Labour “are not fit for purpose”.
He said: “Labour are not fit for purpose – they are failing as an opposition, failing over Brexit and failing their own MPs. “If even his own MPs can’t trust Jeremy Corbyn then why should the people of Scotland?
“Ultimately this split will strengthen Theresa May and make it even more likely that the Tories stay in power through Brexit and beyond.
“Westminster is now completely dysfunctional, with warring factions on both sides of the house more interested in their own bitter disputes than the future of the country. It is increasingly obvious that decisions about Scotland need to be taken here in Scotland and not at Westminster.”
People’s Vote campaigners: Tommy Sheppard, Christine Jardine, John Edward, Kezia Dugdale, Andy Wightman (pic: Terry Murden)
The announcement in Westminster coincided with a cross-party media briefing in Edinburgh calling for a People’s Vote on Brexit.
Kezia Dugdale, the former Scottish Labour leader, described it as a “sad day” for the party and said Labour should be a broad church of opinion.
Christine Jardine, the Lib-Dem MP for Edinburgh West, said it was “too early” to say whether her party would join forces with the Labour rebels in an echo of the formation of the Social Democratic Party in January 1981 when four members of the Labour Party – Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen – made the decision to resign. They later forged an alliance with the Liberal Party to create the Liberal Democrats.
Ms Jardine said: “This is a significant moment for the Labour Party but it doesn’t damage the People’s Vote campaign. We are seeing people every day from across the political spectrum who support the call for a People’s Vote. Nothing that has happened today will change that.”
Ms Dugdale and Ms Jardine were joined by Tommy Sheppard from the SNP and Andy Wightman of the Green Party.
Calling for a second referendum, Mr Sheppard said it was perfectly democratic for people to change their mind. He said that the announcement from the Labour Seven “will be of no great consequence for our campaign.”
Commenting on the resignations, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, pictured below, said: “I am of course disappointed that these MPs have decided to leave the Labour party but today’s events will not deter us from our mission of working to achieve real and lasting change here in Scotland, and as part of the wider effort to change the UK.
“I believe as much today as on the day that I joined the Labour Party that it is Labour and Labour alone that can deliver the real and lasting change in the interests of the majority in our society. Labour, the party of the NHS, the Equal Pay Act, of devolution and the Scottish Parliament and the minimum wage is today still the principal vehicle for change in our country.
“The manifesto all Labour MPs stood on in the 2017 general election was and remains a unifying vision. It saw the party make advances, including starting to win back seats in Scotland.
“When young people are fighting for action on climate change, it is time to come together for the future, not divide. The Tory party’s failed solutions represent a dead end. We must do nothing to let them off the hook.
“This coming Saturday, Scottish Labour will be campaigning on the streets and in our communities, in order to win power in Holyrood and Westminster, not for ourselves but for the people who need it most.”