Keir Starmer ‘deeply saddened’ as seven Labour MPs quit party
Tulip Siddiq says breakaway announcement is 'very sad day'
18 February, 2019
Luciana Berger during her days as a council election candidate in Camden, with former mayor Roger Robinson
SIR Keir Starmer today (Monday) called for Labour to stand “united” after seven of its MPs quit the party.
Luciana Berger, a former Camden council election candidate, Chris Leslie and Chuka Umunna were among the group who announced their resignations, citing the party’s stance on Brexit, problems with anti-semitism and dissatisfaction with Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
Mr Starmer, the Holborn and St Pancras MP who is Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said: “I’m deeply saddened to see colleagues leave the Labour Party. We must remain united in the fight for our party’s values of internationalism and equality for all. That is the only way to bring an end to this Tory government and deliver the change our country so desperately needs.”
Although elected with Labour rosettes, the departing MPs said they would not step down and trigger by-elections. Instead, they will sit together in the House of Commons as ‘The Independent Group’.
The breakaway has been a barely-concealed secret at Westminster in recent days and weeks, and a video released by Momentum on Valentine’s Day had mocked Mr Umunna with a ‘please don’t go’ soundtrack . Mr Umunna had previously called for Momentum, the group supporting Mr Corbyn’s leadership, to be “wound up and shut down”.
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said: “There is nothing to celebrate following today’s announcement, it is a very sad day for the Labour Party. I firmly believe that Britain desperately needs a Labour government in order to end to the deeply harmful policies of the Conservative Party.”
She added: “We can only thrive as a big tent in which there is zero-tolerance of abuse and antisemitism – and I will keep fighting for this, as I have done my whole political life.”
Chuka Umunna visiting Camden Town during his time as shadow business secretary
There was no indication that any of Camden’s Labour councillors were on the brink of resigning in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership or his handling of Brexit or cases of anti-semitism. Council leader Councillor Georgia Gould said in a comment piece on the resignations that she thought the party “continues to be the only hope millions of people have of political power and representation“.
Ms Berger, the Liverpool Wavertree MP who has faced anti-semitic abuse and has accused the party of not doing enough to confront the issue, said: “I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation. I look forward to a future serving with colleagues who respect each other.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Luisa Porritt said the decision by the MPs to sit as an independent group, rather than to defect, did not reflect badly on her party’s ability to recruit under an anti-Brexit banner.
“It’s a huge decision to break away from a party you’ve been a member and MP of for years,” she said. “I think this is good for them, and us, and should be welcomed as it starts to open up a tired, broken two-party political system. That’s something we’ve long been calling for.”
The Independent Group said in a founding statement that it would “pursue policies that are evidence-baed, not led by ideology. taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century in the party’s interests.”
Mr Umunna announced in 2015 that he was ready to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party himself in the wake of Ed Miliband’s general election defeat that year. He abandoned his bid three days later, however, explaining that he had experienced the “extra pressure” of being a contender to lead Labour and “not found it to be a comfortable experience.”
Mr Corbyn, twice emphatically the victor of Labour leadership contests, said he was “disappointed” that the breakaway 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”.
He added: “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.”