Three Tory MPs have resigned from the Conservative Party and launched a withering attack on Theresa May for her “dismal failure” to stand up to hardline Brexiteers.
In a coordinated announcement at 11am on Wednesday morning ahead of PMQs, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen resigned to join the newly formed Independent Group.
The trio are outspoken anti-Brexit campaigners who have been pushing for a second referendum.
Writing to the prime minister to inform her of their decision, the MPs said they could no longer remain in the party which was “firmly in the grip” of the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteer Tories and the DUP.
“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy,” they said.
In response, May rejected the accusation the party had moved too far the right.
“I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve,” she said.
The resignations come as May prepares to travel to Brussels for fresh Brexit talks with Jean-Claude Juncker.
In the letter, the Tory MPs added: “The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”
“We intend to sit as independents alongside the Independent Group of MPs in the centre ground of British politics. There will be times when we will support the Government, for example, on measures to strengthen our economy, security and improve our public services. But we now feel honour bound to put our constituents’ and country’s interests first.
“We will continue to work constructively, locally and nationally, on behalf of our constituents.”
May said she was “saddened” by the defections but added she did not intend to change course on Brexit.
“Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy,” she said.
“But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future.”
On Tuesday evening Joan Ryan became the eighth MP to defect from Labour to the Independent Group notionally led by Chuka Umunna.
Members of the new group have indicated they will resist demands from the leadership, including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, to step down and seek a fresh mandate from voters in a by-election.
With a poll taken the day after the Independent Group’s launch putting the breakaway MPs on 10% support to Labour’s 26% nationally, Corbyn’s party would be hopeful of seizing back most if not all of the seats.
Laura Parker, the National Coordinator of the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum hit out at the Labour defectors for having “in coalition with the Tories”.
“It’s clear that the new party is a Blairite-Tory coalition aimed at resurrecting a dead agenda of privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts for the super rich,” she said.
This morning Labour said the right of recall should be expanded to allow voters to force MPs out of their seats if they switch parties mid-term.