Former prime minister David Cameron tried to convince three Tory MPs to stay in the party – hours before they quit.
Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen left the party and joined the newly formed The Independent Group – with warnings that more MPs in both Labour and the Conservative could follow.
And in an interview with The Times’ Red Box podcast Soubry revealed that former party leader Cameron had tried to prevent their defection by sending a message to them shortly before they made their minds up.
He said: ‘Is it too late to persuade you to stay?’ he asked.
Cameron, who has been held responsible by many for the Brexit vote, later tweeted his sadness that they had quit the Conservative party.
He said: ‘I am sad that three talented Tory MPs have left the party. I backed the open primaries that saw two of them elected and supported them all.
‘I respect their decision, but disagree with them: we need strong voices at every level of the party calling for the modern, compassionate Conservatism that saw the Conservative Party return to office.’
The Tory MPs made clear that their concerns about May’s performance went far wider than Brexit, accusing the PM of throwing away the modernisation agenda begun by Cameron and allowing the party to be taken over by right-wing hardliners.
The three blamed ‘Blukip’ or a ‘purple Momentum’ of hard-right ‘zealots’ for trying to force out MPs on the Remain wing of the party through deselections.
They claimed May had shown a ‘dismal failure’ to stand up to the European Research Group of Brexiteer Conservatives, who were operating as a ‘party within a party’ at Westminster.
The Three MPs added they could ‘no longer act as bystanders’ as May continued with her Brexit strategy.
Allen said she believed ‘a significant number’ of Conservative MPs were considering joining the new group.
Asked if she could ever envisage returning to the Tory fold, Allen made clear her ambitions for her new movement: ‘If we do our jobs right, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to.’