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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 24 October, 2019

The House of Commons has got a new group (not party), so what will it mean for Brexit votes?

Seven Labour MPs have split from the party.

The seven MPs who spoke at today's press conference.
The seven MPs who spoke at today's press conference.
Image: PA Images
“WE INVITE YOU to leave your parties and help us forge a new consensus on a way forward for Britain.”

Chuka Umunna MP made that plea this morning as he and six other MPs confirmed they were leaving the Labour party to form a new political grouping.

Not a political party mind, but a parliamentary grouping that will be known as The Independent Group. 

Smaller independent party groupings may be the norm in the Dáil, including the one that’s part of the government, but in the UK’s parliamentary system they’re rare and today’s move was a big deal. 

Not least because the threat of a split in the Labour party has been in the offing since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015.

Now though, with Brexit less than six weeks ago, the move has finally been made.

Teasing the media before the announcement, the group of seven said they were planning an event “relating to the future of British politics”.

But will they have any impact beyond today? And what will it mean for Brexit? 

In their words, the MPs say their main motivation in leaving Labour was because their party has changed radically from the one they joined.

Luciana Berger said that she had become “embarrassed and ashamed” to be in the party

But each said the new group is about more than just Labour and that the entire British political system needs overhauling. Umanna said what is being witnessed is “the dysfunctional state of British politics”.

Angela Smith MP said that there were “millions of people who are politically homeless” and who are “begging for an alternative.” 

So as part of that conclusion, The Independent Group has said that it will work with disillusioned supporters and members from both Labour and other parties.

“We’ve taken the first step in leaving the old tribal politics behind and we invite others who share our political values to do so too. You might come from a Labour background, but you might come from other political traditions,” Umanna told reporters. 

Asked whether they were seeking to create a wider movement, the MPs were reluctant to put that label on it, pointing only to a set of values on the group’s website

Some in the Labour leadership have said that if the MPs wish to leave the party they should also quit their seats and run in a by-election, giving voters the chance to judge them as independents. 

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said they should do the “honourable thing” and resign as MPs. 

The Independent Group members have resisted this, with Chris Leslie arguing that his views have not changed, only that of his party, and that a result a by-election would be “a total distraction”. 

“What happened, as in my case, is my views has stayed the same but my party has veered off in a hard left ideological direction,” Leslie told Sky News. 

Speaking later in that same interview about how he will vote in the Commons, Leslie said he would not vote to facilitate any Brexit he feels would be harmful to the British economy. 

This, is not necessarily the view of the The Independent Group as a whole with Umanna telling reporters that they will not always be voting collectively.

“We will see how we will vote on a variety of things depending on our values and we are independent by the way, so it might be that we have different views on different things,” he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another defeat in the House of Commons, losing a symbolic vote on her government’s plans to secure a new withdrawal deal. 

The margin in that vote was 303 to 258, displaying the numerical problems faced by May in parliament. 

The new Independent Group won’t make too much of a difference to those figures, but if there is a general election Labour may just have got some more ground to make up. 

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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