Rebel Labour MPs set to quit party and form centre group

A group of disaffected Labour MPs is preparing to quit the party and form a breakaway movement on the political centre ground amid growing discontent with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit and other key issues including immigration, and antisemitism.

The Observer has been told by multiple sources that at least six MPs have been drawing up plans to resign the whip and leave the party soon.

There have also been discussions involving senior figures about a potentially far larger group splitting off at some point after Brexit, if Corbyn fails to do everything possible to oppose ’s plans for taking the UK out of the EU.

Last night, three of the MPs widely rumoured to be involved in the plans for an initial breakaway – Angela Smith, Chris Leslie and Luciana Berger – refused to be drawn into talk of a split, and insisted they were focused on opposing Brexit.

But they did not deny that moves could be made by the spring or early summer.

Leslie described rumours of a breakaway as “speculation” but added: “A lot of people’s patience is being tested right now. I think there are some questions we are all going to have to face, especially if Labour enables Brexit.”

Berger said she was focused on Brexit but made clear she, as parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, was increasingly angry at the apparent failure of the party to act on complaints of antisemitism inside the party.

While the detailed plans for a breakaway, and the timing of any announcement, are not yet finalised, it is understood that MPs behind the move hope that moderate Tory MPs and Liberal Democrats could join them over time, allowing a new party to be formed that would appeal to voters who no longer feel adequately represented.

Unrest within Labour – and talk of the party fracturing – will be fuelled by the latest Opinium poll for the Observer today, which shows a dramatic fall in its support at a time of chaos and turmoil in the Tory party.

Labour is now seven points behind the Conservatives, with approval ratings for Corbyn over his handling of Brexit at an all-time low and worse than those for May.

The Conservatives are on 41%, up four points compared with the previous Opinium poll on 16 January, while Labour has plummeted by six points to 34% despite the Tories’ travails. The survey suggests Labour is losing its Leave supporters to the Tories and Remain backers to the Liberal Democrats, who are up one point on 8%, as the Brexit crisis deepens.

 

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