Seven centrist British lawmakers have split away from the U.K.’s Labour Party over a variety of issues, including Labour’s failure to take a firm stance on Brexit.
The members of Parliament—Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey—announced their decision on Monday. They have formed a new alliance called the Independent Group and are urging other lawmakers to join them.
“Our primary duty as members of Parliament is to put the best interests of our constituents and our country first. Yet like so many others, we believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country,” the group’s statement reads. “Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interests.”
Brexit is by no means the only reason for the split, although the seven all back the idea of a second referendum on the issue. As Umunna said in a press conference, “In the end, we’re not going to change the arithmetic in Parliament on what happens with Brexit.” (Labour still has 255 members left in Parliament.)
One big trigger for the split was the anti-Semitism that has repeatedly manifested in the far left of the Labour Party, and with which party leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly been linked. Berger, who is Jewish, has been repeatedly monstered on social media by Corbyn fans.
At their press conference, the parliamentarians said the Labour Party used to be a “broad church,” but the hard left had taken over.
“Labour now pursues policies that would weaken our national security; accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country; has failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach; is passive in circumstances of international humanitarian distress; is hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilize the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives,” their statement read.
Corbyn has long been seen as antagonistic toward the EU, on the basis that it would supposedly stymie his plans for renationalizing parts of the British economy. He nominally opposed Brexit during the referendum campaign, but with no visible enthusiasm.
The U.K. is currently sliding toward a “no-deal” Brexit, but Corbyn has so far refused to back the idea of a second referendum on the issue. This is despite the fact that party members last year voted to keep that option on the table.
“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,” Corbyn said in a statement.
The question now is whether, in the increasingly likely event of a general election, the new Independent Group would take away the votes that could see Labour taking power. Polling last week suggested that Labour and Theresa May’s Conservative Party were neck-and-neck, but also that many people don’t like the direction either party has taken, with 40% being open to the idea of a new political party.