Tories pushed close to breaking point after three Brexit-hating MPs defect and join Independent Group
THERESA May’s Tory party was pushed close to breaking point on Wednesday as three prominent MPs walked out to join the new Independent Group.
Former Cabinet minister Anna Soubry, Commons Health Committee chair Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen stunned Westminster with the defection.
The passionate Remainers said a “Blukip” takeover over the Conservative Party by “hardline anti-EU awkward squad” had forced them to act.
The joint defection by ex- Cabinet minister Anna Soubry, Commons Health Committee chair Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen stunned Westminster.
And Ms Allen sparked anger among ex-colleagues by bragging that they could end up destroying the Conservatives.
She said: “If we do our jobs right, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to.”
They accused Mrs May of being “in the grip” of Brexiteer extremists and of “a dismal failure” to stand up to them.
Their move delighted the centrist new group of eight former Labour MPs, boosting its number to 11 – as well as opening up the prospect of a major realignment in British politics.
But it also ignited a furious backlash among moderate Tories, lead by ex-PM David Cameron.
The former Tory leader issued a thinly veiled assault on his successor Theresa May to insist she must “ensure” that the Conservatives tolerate different views on Europe.
More angry Tory Remainers could also follow them out the door soon, the defectors claimed.
The defections slashed the Government’s working majority with the DUP down to just eight, and made the Independent Group the fifth largest party in the House of Commons.
WHY THE THREE QUIT
Dubbing themselves “the three amigos”, the three ex-Tory MPs coordinated their resignations with a joint announcement at 11am on Wednesday.
Ms Soubry, 62, who has been a Tory since a student in the 1970s, said the moderate One Nation Conservative Party she joined “is over”.
The serial EU rebel – who was on the verge of tears as she told how hard it was to quit – said: “A purple momentum is subsuming the Conservative party, much as the hard left has been allowed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour party.
“The hardline anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe.
“I’m not leaving the Conservative Party. It’s left us”.
Ms Soubry also urged “fellow one nation Conservatives” and “like-minded Lib Dems” to “please, come and join us”.
In another blistering attack, Ms Allen blasted Boris Johnson and the hardliner Brexiteer European Research Group, saying: “When we allow a cabinet minister to say f**k business and our PM be bullied by the ERG – then I’m done”.
Ms Wollaston said “a significant number” of their former Tory MP colleagues are weighing up their future and may also soon join the Independent Group, which soon hopes to become a fully-fledged political party.
One on ‘resignation watch’ and said to be close to resigning on Wednesday night is former justice minister Jonathan Djanogly.
Others said they had turned down the new group’s invitation for now, but may take it up in the future.
Another pro-EU former Tory minister, Philip Lee, told The Sun: “I’m staying to fight for the party I joined in 1992.
“But if we can’t shake off the current trend of UKIP-lite, then who knows in future. I don’t rule anything out.”
In one ray of hope for Mrs May, the three defectors said they would still back her Government when they felt it was right to over the economy, security and public services.
They also signalled they wouldn’t support any fresh Labour bid to force a general election, but would fight hard for a second referendum.
An hour after the three MPs resigned, they took up new seats with eight former Labour MPs who also resigned this week to watch PMQs from the opposition side of the aisle.
But while the Tory splitters said they had been thinking about quitting the party for some time – they only hatched their plan to go in the last two days, after being motivated to act by the former Labour Gang of Seven’s shock walk out of Jeremy Corbyn’s party on Monday.
TORY LEADERSHIP REACTION
The PM said she was “saddened” by the resignations but insisted “we are doing the right thing for our country” by delivering Brexit.
Mrs May added: “The UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy”.
Her predecessor Mr Cameron said he was “sad that three talented Tory MPs have left the party”.
Issuing the broadside apparently directed at Mrs May, the former party boss tweeted: “We need strong voices at every level of the party calling for the modern, compassionate Conservatism that saw the Conservative Party return to office.
“Our party has long been able to contain different views on Europe. Everyone must ensure that can continue to be the case.”
Other Tory moderates branded the moment a wake up call.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said the defections meant the party had moved “a notch to the right”, and warned of the “hill we face in appealing to the next generation to secure an election win”.
In a markedly different response to the Labour leadership over its defectors, No10 and Cabinet ministers held the door firmly open to the three MPs’ return to the Tory fold one day.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “These are extremely talented people, and I hope one day we can invite them back into the Conservative family”.
Leading Brexiteers also refused to condemn them, with former Tory boss Iain Duncan Smith also calling for the three’s return one day, dubbing the Tories “a broad church which is tolerant and decent”.
More Labour MPs also revealed on Wednesday that they too are waiting in the wings to defect.
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Moderate Siobhain McDonagh said she would “rule nothing out nor in”.
The veteran Labour MP added of her former colleagues: “They’re incredibly brave and I congratulate them on their decision.
“I won’t go without a fight, it’s up to Jeremy and how he responds.”
THE SUN SAYS: TORY TURNCOATS
IN some parallel universe the Tory party may have been “captured” by the hard right, as the three turncoats alleged yesterday. It sure as hell hasn’t in this one.
So forget their paranoid and baseless fantasies about Ukip infiltrators. Or about the Tories, under their most left-wing leader in a generation, in fact being ruled by compassionless brutes.
It’s window dressing aimed at disguising their sole obsession, a catastrophically divisive second Brexit referendum.
Perhaps they need to justify it to themselves. Because Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen backed the 2016 referendum, vowed to respect the result, voted for Article 50, then stood for election promising Brexit in full: no single market, no customs union.
They now consider it “extreme” to keep those promises instead of breaking them. Ex-colleagues honouring the referendum and manifesto are “anti-EU zealots”.
Wollaston and Soubry represent Leave constituencies. Wollaston even campaigned for Leave initially. How can these hypocrites deny their duped constituents immediate by-elections and a “final say” on their duplicity?
At least, though, we now know the new Independent Group’s only policy: to reverse Brexit. The Labour MPs mainly quit Corbyn’s party over its vile anti-Semitism and economic insanity. The Tories’ recruitment shifts the entire focus.
Their anti-Brexit arguments, though, are the same old Remoaner claptrap.
Soubry even trotted out the feeblest of all, counting non-voters to claim 63 per cent of us did not back Brexit: A child’s logic, applying to every election ever.
Allen claimed they heard the “clarion call for change” from 17.4million Leave voters. They intend to ignore them.
They said “compassionate Conservatism” had been sidelined, airbrushing out their own role as serial rebels helping to paralyse Theresa May’s Government.
But now they hope she will dump the DUP and make a pact with them in exchange for their “people’s vote”. She could, if she wished to destroy her party.
The Tories rightly aim to be a “broad church”. But these three shameless defectors, puffed up on sanctimony and epic self-regard, were irreconcilable.
They have betrayed their party and their voters. And they’re not done yet.
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