Days after seven lawmakers from the opposition Labour Party resigned to form a new centrist group in Parliament—they’ve since been joined by an eighth—three members of Parliament from the governing Conservative Party have also defected to the group.
And while the Labour defections to The Independent Group were as much about anti-Semitism and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s management style as they were about Brexit, the now ex-Tories are explicitly citing the Brexit chaos as their reason for jumping ship.
“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party—undoing all the efforts to modernize it,” wrote Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May. They complained that the party was now being controlled by the hard-right, euroskeptic European Research Group (ERG) and by Northern Ireland’s socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is propping up May’s minority government.
“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 MPs wrote. “The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit. Following the EU referendum of 2016, no genuine effort was made to build a cross party, let alone a national consensus to deliver Brexit… We find it unconscionable that a Party once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal.”
Indeed, the U.K. is likely to crash out of the EU with no deal on March 29, largely because May cannot get the ERG and the DUP to sign up to her Brexit agreement because of a seemingly insurmountable problem regarding the border between Ireland and the U.K.
May is currently trying to get the EU to agree to give way on the issue, even though it has repeatedly said that it cannot. The suspicion among many is that, with so little time left, May knows she can’t get anything more out of the EU, and hopes that a vote just before Brexit day will panic lawmakers into backing her deal at the last minute, rather than risking a no-deal Brexit—something the ERG would be happy to see happen.
“Running down the clock to March 29th amounts to a policy of no deal and we are not prepared to wait until our toes are at the edge of the cliff,” wrote Allen, Soubry and Wollaston.
Their defections mean The Independent Group is now as big as the Liberal Democrat party, which used to be in coalition with the Conservatives. The Independent Group is not actually a party yet—a fact that allows its funding to remain mysterious—though members have said they want to form a new party later this year.