A group of seven MPs have quit the Labour Party to form a new independent group, tearing into Jeremy Corbyn’s “betrayal” on Brexit and describing the party as “institutionally anti-Semitic”.
Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey announced their plan to split on Monday morning.
The group launched a brutal attack on Corbyn’s refusal to back a second Brexit referendum and the party’s handling of the ongoing anti-Semitism crisis.
It marks the biggest Labour split since the 1980s, when four senior figures quit to form the Social Democratic Party.
Corbyn said he was “disappointed” that a “small group” of MPs had quit, while a party source called on the to resign and trigger by-elections as they won their seats endorsing a Labour manifesto presided over by the leader.
But he faced stinging criticism from the group, which called on MPs from other parties to join them in putting “the best interests of the country above short-term party politics”.
Berger was set to face two no-confidence votes in her constituency earlier this month, before the motions were withdrawn at the eleventh hour.
The Jewish Liverpool Wavertree MP described a “very difficult, painful, but necessary decision” as she said she had become “embarrassed and ashamed” to remain in Labour under Corbyn.
Berger, who is heavily pregnant and has spoken publicly about facing torrents of anti-Semitic abuse, said: “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.”
Leslie, meanwhile, set out Labour’s “betrayal” on Brexit. He said: “In all conscience we can no longer knock on doors and support a government led by Jeremy Corbyn and the team around him.
“Why? Well, for a start, the evidence of Labour’s betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see.
“Offering to actually enable this government’s Brexit, constantly holding back from allowing the public a final say, conference policy has been cast aside, no guaranteed full participation in the single market any more, no exact same benefits, no movement towards a People’s Vote.
“Choosing to stand by while our constituents’ lives and future opportunities are hurt by Brexit is a fundamental violation of Labour’s traditional values.”
In the online statement, the MPs also said the Labour Party now pursues policies that would weaken national security, is “passive” in international crises such as in Venezuela, is “hostile” to businesses large and small and “threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives”.
It says “visceral hatreds” of other people views and opinions are now “commonplace” in the party.
The group promised to pursue “evidence-based policies” which are “not led by ideology” that is “locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interests”.
In a clear dividing line with Labour under Corbyn, they said Britain works best as a mixed social market economy “in which well-regulated private enterprise can reward aspiration and drive economic progress”.
The group called for a society which fosters “individual freedom” and called for reducing inequality by extending opportunity to break down barriers of poverty, prejudice and discrimination.
They also promised to protect the freedom of the media, the rule of law, and the international rules-based system, including maintaining strong alliances with Europe.
There were also pledges to argue for continued public funding of the NHS, protecting the environment, and devolving power to local communities.
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said his party was “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,” he added.
But other Labour MPs expressed regret at the move.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan insisted he would remain in Labour and stand as a candidate for the party at the next mayoral election.
In a Facebook post, he wrote: “This is a desperately sad day. These seven MPs are all friends of mine. I served alongside them in Parliament.
“I agree that the only way through the mess of Brexit is to give the public the final say, and that the Labour Party needs to do much more to root out the evil of anti-Semitism.
“However, history clearly shows that the only way to get real change in our society – whether fighting for a public vote, tackling inequality, or ending austerity - is within the Labour Party. When the Labour Party splits it only leads to one outcome – a Tory government – and that means a hard Tory Brexit.”
Responding to the group’s decision, Corbyn said: “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.
“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.”
Laura Parker, national co-ordinator for the grassroots Corbyn-backing movement Momentum, said the new group offered “no concrete solutions, have no new ideas and no support amongst the public”.
A party source added: “All these MPs stood under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on a manifesto that the whole party united around and all saw their votes increase.
“Now they are standing for different policies and on a different platform, they should resign and put them to the test in a by-election. That is the right and democratic thing to do.”