Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

Ninth MP quits UK opposition amid threat of cross-party Brexit rebellion

In total 12 MPs have quit Britain's two main parties Conservative and Labour this week

The sun rises over the Houses of Parliament in London. Reuters
The sun rises over the Houses of Parliament in London. Reuters

A ninth MP left Britain’s main opposition party, Labour, on Friday in protest at leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism accusations.

But Ian Austin, the parliamentary representative for Dudley North, said he would not be joining 11 former Labour and Conservative MPs in the newly formed Independent Group.

So far this week, 12 MPs have left Britain’s two main political parties in protest at the leadership.

Announcing his resignation in his constituency’s local newspaper, Mr Austin said he had become “ashamed” of Labour.

"It is terrible that a culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance is driving out good MPs and decent people who have committed their life to mainstream politics," he told the Express & Star.

"The hard left is now in charge of the party, they're going to get rid of lots of decent mainstream MPs and I just can't see how it can return to the mainstream party that won elections and changed the country for the better."

Mr Austin, whose constituency overwhelmingly voted leave in the 2016 referendum, said he had no plans to join the Independent Group of cross-party MPs, a majority of whom support a second vote on Britain’s EU membership.

The newly formed centrist block totalling 11 MPs is now the fourth largest party in British parliament, alongside the Liberal Democrats.

While only three MPs from the ruling Conservative Party have defected, Britain's prime minister Theresa May is facing a threat of rebellion in the next Brexit crunch vote billed for February 27.

Mrs May is currently seeking "legally binding" changes on the withdrawal agreement from Brussels.

But if she is unable to put her deal before the House of Commons by next Wednesday, the prime minister has promised to allow MPs to vote on other options for Brexit.

Mrs May has repeatedly said that Britain will leave the EU on March 29 with or without a divorce deal.

But on Friday it was reported that up to 35 Conservative MPs were prepared to support delaying Brexit by requesting an extension to Article 50 to rule out the possibility of a no-deal.

Andrew Percy, leader of the Brexit Delivery Group made up of Remain and moderate Leave Conservative MPs, said many of his colleagues were fed up with hardline Brexiteers in the party.

He said moderate Conservative MPs would act to ensure the European Research Group (ERG) do not push the country into crashing out of the EU without a deal.

"There's an increasing number of moderate Conservative MPs who have consistently compromised and voted with the prime minister who are becoming increasingly tired of the ERG acting as a party within the party," Mr Percy told Sky News.

"If they [the ERG] are not prepared to compromise - it's clear other MPs will have to default to their next preferred outcome. "For those who want a no-deal Brexit, that doesn't end well for them."

Updated: February 22, 2019 05:51 PM