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MPs quit May's Conservative Party

Alexander Pearson
February 20, 2019

Three anti-Brexit lawmakers have quit the Conservative Party, saying PM Theresa May is handling the Brexit process "disastrously." The move comes two days after several anti-Brexit lawmakers left the Labour Party.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston
Image: picture-alliance

Three anti-Brexit lawmakers quit British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party on Wednesday to join eight former Labour MPs in a new independent political group.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston said in a joint letter to May that her government was handling Britain's exit from the European Union "disastrously" and that the Conservative Party was "firmly in the grip" of hard-line pro-Brexit lawmakers.

"Following the EU referendum of 2016, no genuine effort was made to build a cross-party, let alone a national consensus to deliver Brexit," they said.

May 'saddened by this decision'

The move came ahead of May's trip to Brussels, where she was hoping to secure concessions from the European Union on a controversial Brexit withdrawal agreement.

"I am saddened by this decision," May said. "Of course, the UK's membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time."

The prime minister said however that the Conservative government was "doing the right thing" for the country.

Independent Group grows

Allen, Soubry and Wollaston said they would stay in parliament as part of the Independent Group. Soubry is arguably the best known of the three, a junior Cabinet minister under David Cameron. 

Seven opposition MPs  formed the breakaway association after quitting the biggest opposition party, Labour, on Monday. An eighth Labour lawmaker quit the party for the Independent Group a day later. Chuka Umunna, briefly a candidate for the Labour leadership in 2015, is the most prominent former Labour member of the group.

The rebels cited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's tepid opposition to Brexit and the spread of anti-Semitism within the party for leaving it.

The former Conservative trio sat with the former Labour members on Wednesday as May answered questions in the House of Commons. Neither May nor Corbyn spoke about the defections from their parties during the session.

'No room for renegotiation'

Clock ticking

May met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker later on Wednesday to try to break a stalemate in talks over the draft withdrawal deal.

May wants Brussels to agree to legal changes to a controversial provision that could keep Britain closely tied to EU rules for years after it leaves the bloc. EU leaders have repeatedly said they are unwilling to reopen negotiations.

Britain risks severe damage to its economy if both sides fail to secure a deal before the current Brexit deadline of March 29.

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