A group of eight MPs, including four Labour/Co-op members, have quit the Labour Party, citing disagreements over Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the antisemitism row.
The Co-operative Party-sponsored Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker and Chris Leslie join Chuka Umunna, Ann Coffey and Angela Smith in breaking away from Labour on Monday to sit as the Independent Group.
They were followed two days later by Labour MP Joan Ryan – and by three anti-Brexit Conservative MPs, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen. They will sit as independents rather than forming a new party.
Mr Gapes, MP for Ilford South, accused Mr Corbyn of facilitating Brexit, and said there was a problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party.
He added: “Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side in so many international issues, from Russia, to Syria to Venezuela.”
Mr Shuker, MP for Luton South, said the country was suffering from a lack of leadership, adding: “We back well-regulated business but in return we expect them to provide decent, secure and well-paid jobs.
“These are values that once would have been considered mainstream in our parties of government… The Labour Party has turned its back on the British public, their hopes and ambitions.”
Mr Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, hit out at a “hard left” takeover of Labour and said it would be irresponsible to allow Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister.
And Ms Berger, MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said Labour was “institutionally antisemitic” and that its leadership had failed to address “a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation”.
In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn 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.”
Many of the remaining Labour Co-op MPs have taken to social media to voice their dismay, including Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), who tweeted: “Very sad and disappointed that some of our colleagues have resigned from the Party. I think it’s the wrong decision. There’s no route to a progressive, fairer country that doesn’t include a vibrant and strong Labour Party. That’s what I will continue to work for.”
But she added: “I’m particularly sad about my friend, Luciana. She has been subject to despicable and appalling abuse and antisemitism by some in our Party. Her leaving must make us redouble our efforts to tackle all antisemitism in the party.”
And Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) hit out at the seven, tweeting: “Sit as independents, vote as independents, fight elections as independents and then independently help the Tories stay in power.”
Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen) tweeted: “Heartbreaking to lose colleagues in this way. Only by working together as a broad church can we change the lives for our constituents. @UKLabour and @CoopParty have long-standing traditions to support those most in need and with ambition to fulfil their potential. A sad day.”
Party chair Gareth Thomas MP tweeted: “Very sad to see good MPs leaving both UK Labour and the Co-op Party. Whilst I share frustration over the scale of antisemitism that still needs tackling in the end we’ll only get the fairer, better country I want through a strong effective UK Labour – I’ll keep pushing for both.”
In an outspoken string of tweets, Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Kemptown and Peacehaven) called on the seven to resign their seats and fight by elections, and warned they breakaway group risked handing power to hard Brexit Tories by “splitting the left/liberal vote”.
“Any Pro-EU MP that resigns to form a new party will be aiding Brexit by reducing the Pro-EU voices in the party, we will find it harder to persuade the 20-30 pro-Brexit MPs to follow the whip,” he added.
“Brexit was about cowards, running away from the EU and giving up on the fight. Brexit was about scared little public school boys storming off in a tantrum, or was un-British. MPs leaving UKLabour because it’s easier to be alone is based on same motivation & action –
But Stella Creasy, Labour/Co-op MP for Walthamstow, tweeted: “Politics is about how you fight for a better future & values that keep you going through storms and sunshine, not who you hate & the badges that you wear. As someone Labour to my core who never ducks a fight I know today Labour has to learn from what’s happened, and not lash out.”
A spokesperson for the Co-op Party said: “We regret that four Co-operative MPs have today announced that they have resigned from the Labour Party – Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker.
“This means that they are no longer eligible to sit as Labour & Co-operative MPs. We thank them sincerely for their support for the Co-operative Party and the co-operative movement over the years.”
Meanwhile, Peter Hunt, managing partner at co-op consultancy Mutuo and general secretary of the Co-op Party from 1998 to 2008, has given up his membership of Labour.
Writing to the Guardian, he hit out at Mr Corbyn’s stance and Labour’s move to the left – in particular the return to the party of Derek Hatton, the former deputy leader of Liverpool City Council who was expelled from the party in 1986 for his membership of the Militant group.
“I joined Labour in 1983 and had to spend much of the 1980s fighting hard-left infiltrators,” wrote Mr Hunt. “It was brutal, but eventually we became sane and electable. I had the privilege, as Co-operative party general secretary, of working with great people in Labour governments, trying to make things better and improve our country. I was lucky, to see close up what good a moderate social democratic Labour party could achieve.
“Corbyn does not represent my politics and Labour is now a hostile environment for people like me. I can’t be a member if I cannot bring myself to vote for his hard-left brand of politics. He is selling our country down the river on Brexit, is a threat to national security, and his cult of fans are increasingly nasty and shrill.
“On Monday, seven good MPs left. I respect them as well as those who have decided to stay and fight. But Derek Hatton is back in. So I’m out.”