Disgusted by Brexit hard-liners, three lawmakers abandon Theresa May’s Conservative Party

Disgusted by Brexit hard-liners, three lawmakers abandon Theresa May’s Conservative Party
LONDON—With Britain’s chaotic departure from the European Union just weeks away, three prominent lawmakers abruptly resigned Wednesday from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party, saying the government had surrendered control to hard-line Brexiteers who are endangering the country’s future.

The three Conservative members of Parliament who resigned will now join a new “Independent Group” of lawmakers formed earlier this week by eight legislators who resigned from the Labour party.

MPs Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston have resigned from The Conservative Party to join the eight Labour MPs who resigned forming The Independent Group on Monday. They intend to sit as independent MPs occupying the centre ground of British Politics.  (Chris J Ratcliffe / GETTY IMAGES)

The creation of a small but potentially powerful independent bloc of 11 — now composed of moderates from both parties — suggests that seismic forces are at work in British politics. These forces have been unleashed by Brexit and the bitter divisions over how and whether to leave Europe behind.

Centrist members of Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour party say their movement has swung too far to the hard left. When the eight resigned on Monday and Tuesday, the Labour defectors complained about Corbyn’s handling of Brexit and his inability to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party.

The three Conservatives, or Tories, who broke away on Wednesday blamed their party’s “failure” to stand up to zealous Brexiteers, specifically the gathering of approximately 60 backbenchers known as the European Research Group, or ERG, who are pushing for a complete break from the European Union. The leaders of the ERG, who have failed to topple May, say they are prepared to see Britain leave the trading bloc with no transition period and no trade deal, rather than preserve the closer ties that May seeks on rules and regulations.

The Tory defectors also complained about the outsize power of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, which is propping up May’s minority government after her disastrous showing in the 2017 snap elections. The DUP — dominated by Protestant loyalists — rejects any compromise that would threaten Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom.

EU, UK to have more Brexit talks but key disagreement intact

Announcing their resignations, the three Tories — Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry — told the prime minister in a statement, “We no longer feel we can remain in the Party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.”

They wrote: “Brexit has redefined the Conservative Party — undoing all the efforts to modernize it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy.”

As she prepared to shuttle to Brussels for another round of Brexit talks, May said she was “saddened” by their decision to leave the party. “These are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it,” she said.

The prime minister acknowledged, too, the obvious, that Brexit is painful and hard. “Of course, the U.K.’s membership of the E.U. has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time,” May said. “Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy.”

But May said she and the government would press on and deliver the Brexit that the country voted for in a June 2016 referendum.
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