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Brex-split: 7 lawmakers quit Labour over EU, anti-Semitism

18 February 2019

Former shadow cabinet minister Owen Smith said he was "not commenting" on the rumours, linked to anger over how the party is dealing with Brexit and allegations of anti-Semitism.

The seven MPs include Chuka Umunna, who was a candidate for party leadership after Labour's 2015 election defeat; others - some of them lifelong members of the party - are Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey.

Ms Berger, who is Jewish, added: "I can not remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic".

"We invite you to leave your parties and force a new consensus", Umunna said.

Chuka Umunna believes "it is time we dumped this country's old-fashioned politics" to create a new political party free from tribal politics that is "fit for the here and now".

They will continue to sit as members of parliament under the banner "The Independent Group".

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Another, Mike Gapes, accused the party's leaders of being "complicit in facilitating Brexit".

Many Labour members oppose Brexit - which is due in less than six weeks, on March 29 - and want the party to fight to hold a new referendum that could keep Britain in the 28-nation bloc.

Corbyn said he was "disappointed" by the MPs' decision. "But the Labour Party we joined is no longer today's Labour Party", he said.

"This has been a very hard, painful but necessary decision", Berger said.

One of the breakaways, Chris Leslie, claimed that other MPs privately think it would irresponsible to allow Corbyn to be prime minister, but Livingstone says these people also support the "neoliberal values of Tony Blair" and "are terrified", of a Corbyn government.

The timing of the announcement has been questioned, with second referendum campaigners concerned that the exodus of the Independent Group could cause Corbyn and the Labour leadership to back away from supporting a "People's Vote" and potentially split Labour voters, leading to a greater Conservative majority in the next general election.

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It's regrettable that Labour's leadership has not taken a stronger line on antisemitism, which has undoubtedly led to many Jews thinking that they may not have a future in Britain.

The statement said "Labour now pursues policies that would weaken our national security; accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country; has failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives' approach; is passive in circumstances of worldwide humanitarian distress; is hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives".

MP John Healey called the move "a political dead-end that can only help the Tories and hurt those who need change most".

"It basically installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade", he said.

The raft of departures brings the total number of seats held by the main opposition party down to 249 from a previous 256, while raising the total number of independent MPs in the assembly to 15.

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Brex-split: 7 lawmakers quit Labour over EU, anti-Semitism