Seven lawmakers abandon the UK Labor Party citing the "betrayal" of Brexit, the anti-Semitism


LONDON (Reuters) – Seven Labor MPs left Monday with Jeremy Corbyn's approach to Brexit and a row of anti-Semitism, stating that Britain's main opposition party had been "hijacked by the politics of the leftist machine" .

In a direct challenge to Corbyn, the seven centrist MPs said they were courting others from all over the parliament to join their group, saying "enough is enough" to keep quiet about their doubts about the suitability of the ruling Labor leader.

United by the desire for a second referendum on the decision of Britain to leave the European Union, they recognized that their resignation would not change the arithmetic in parliament, where there is still no majority for such a vote.

But their move underlines Labor's growing frustration with Corbyn's reluctance to change his Brexit strategy: the leftist and long-time critic of the EU has abided by his preference for a new election or his plan to leave the blockade.

With just 39 days before Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and commercial policy moves in more than 40 years, the Brexit divisions have fragmented British politics, breaking down the traditional party lines and creating new ad hoc coalitions.

"The Labor Party we joined for the campaign we believed was no longer the Labor Party of today … it was hijacked by the politics of the machine of the hard left," said MP Chris Leslie at a press conference.

"The evidence of the betrayal of Labor on Europe is now visible to everyone, offering to actually enable the Brexit of this government – constantly holding back from allowing the public to speak their own."

The seven legislators are Leslie, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey. They will continue to sit as members of parliament under the banner "The Independent Group".

Corbyn expressed his disappointment at the group's departure, referring to a statement to "Labor policies that inspired millions in the last election" when the opposition party saw its biggest increase in the share of votes from 1945 to win 262 seats.

His chief financial officer, John McDonnell, called on legislators to "resign" and try to regain their seat in parliament. The local branch for work in the constituency of Umunna asked him to call a so-called supplementary election.

Members of the British Labor Party Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker and Chuka Umunna pose for a photo after the announcement that they are about to leave the party, in London, Great Britain, February 18, 2019. REUTERS / Simon Dawson

But the deputy chief of the party, Tom Watson, described the resignation as an "alarm bell", saying "unless we change we could see more days like this" – a heartfelt suggestion that Corbyn and his team have brought the Labor too far to the left.


The 2016 British EU referendum, when 52% voted to leave against 48 to stay, divided not only British towns and villages but also the parliament, with both conservative and Labor leaders fighting to keep their parties together.

The Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Theresa May flexed their muscles by voting against his government in a symbolic Brexit polls last week, although they have so far given little sign of formal rupture.

But the legislators of the new independent Labor group could hope to try some pro-EU members of the ruling party.

"We believe that the whole political system is now broken … We have had sufficient evidence to suggest that people out there will come forward, register their support and help us … to build a new political movement", said Angela Smith.

Corbyn has so far adhered to the Labor policy to keep the option of a second referendum "on the table" if the May government fails to reach an agreement with Brussels that could break an impasse in Parliament, preferring a new election or his proposed agreement.

The prospect of holding a second referendum raises a dilemma to Corbyn: while many of the party members fervently support the so-called People's Vote, others just want Britain to leave as soon as possible.

But it was clear that for the seven legislators, the broader convictions of Corbyn had spurred them to leave the party.

Corbyn cemented a shift to the left in Labor, taking control of a party that, under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, moved to the center to win and hold power for 13 years.

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Some accused Corbyn of not having dealt with anti-Semitism in the party, an accusation that he persecuted the Labor leader, a supporter of the Palestinian rights and critics of the Israeli government, since he took over the party in 2015. Corbyn he denies the accusation, saying he is knocking out anti-Semitism.

Luciana Berger, a Jewish parliamentarian who was abused, said the party had become "institutionally anti-Semitic".

For others, Corbyn was not up to the demands of his office, they said. Mike Gapes said that now is a question of the moral integrity of legislators if they stay in the Labor.

Written by Elizabeth Piper and William James; additional reports by Alistair Smout, Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Heinrich

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