Seven MPs have resigned from the Labour Party to sit in a new Independent group in the House of Commons.
It is the most significant split to hit the party since the breakaway of the Social Democratic Party in the early 1980s.
Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Chuka Umunna are among the MPs from the party’s centrist wing who have been the loudest critics of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, his stance on Brexit and his handling of allegations of anti-Semitism.
At a press conference at London’s County Hall to announce their move, Leslie – a former shadow chancellor – said that Labour had been ‘hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left’, while Berger said she had come to the ‘sickening’ conclusion that the party is now ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.
Jeremy Corbyn said he was ‘disappointed’ at their decision.
‘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,’ said the Labour leader in a statement.
‘Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few – redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change.
‘The Conservative government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan. When millions are facing the misery of Universal Credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all.’
Berger initially introduced herself as ‘the Labour Party MP’, before correcting herself and saying: ‘I am the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree’.
She said: ‘This morning we have all now resigned from the Labour Party. This has been a very difficult, painful, but necessary decision.
‘We represent different parts of the country, we are of different backgrounds, we were born of different generations, but we all share the same values.
‘From today, we will all sit in Parliament as a new independent group of MPs.’
Berger said she had become ’embarrassed and ashamed to remain in the Labour Party’.
‘I have not changed. The core values of equality for all, opportunity for all, anti-racism against all and social justice – the values which I hold really dear and which led me to join the Labour Party as a student almost 20 years ago – remain who I am.
‘And yet these values have been consistently and constantly violated, undermined and attacked, as the Labour Party today declines to my constituents and our country before party interests.
‘I cannot remain in a party which I have come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic.’
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Vince Cable, who himself left Labour for the SDP in 1982, tweeted: ‘It is not unexpected, or unwelcome, that a group of Labour MPs have decided to break away from Corbyn’s Labour; in part motivated by his refusal to follow the party’s policy on Brexit.’
He added: ‘The Liberal Democrats are open to working with like-minded groups and individuals in order to give the people the final say on Brexit, with the option to remain in the EU. We will be engaging in talks to progress both that campaign and a wider political agenda.’
A People’s Vote campaign spokesperson said it would continue to work with key figureheads from the Labour Party to convince it to back a second Brexit referendum.
They said: ‘We are not a political party, nor are we ever going to allow ourselves to be associated with just one faction of any political party. We are a campaign for a People’s Vote. We are supported by a cross-party group of MPs, as well as by members of the public from all parties and of none.
‘Some MPs will have their own reasons for wanting to resign from a particular political party but, as a campaign, we are still working towards securing the support of the Labour front bench.
‘Over the weekend, we were encouraged by comments by John McDonnell that Labour would push for a vote on its own Brexit proposals by the end of this month. We remain optimistic that if – or when – such Brexit options have been exhausted, Labour will be able to join the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and many Conservatives, as well as hundreds of thousands of voters on the streets of London on March 23, in calling for any final deal to be put to the people.’