New Independent Group of MPs to meet for first time

MPs in the new Independent Group are to hold their first meeting after dramatically breaking away from their former parties last week.

Eight Labour MPs were followed by three Tories in quitting their parties to form a new centrist grouping in potentially the most significant realignment in British politics in a generation.

After the fanfare and press conferences of last week, they will meet formally for the first time as a group on Monday behind closed doors at Westminster.

Ex-Labour member Chuka Umunna insisted at the weekend that they were not yet a party or a movement, with a fully worked out programme for government, but simply a group of independent MPs.

Members have said they are united by a shared “non-tribal” belief in “progressive” values combined with deep unhappiness at the directions their former parties had taken, particularly on Brexit.

Chuka Umunna
Chuka Umunna has played down suggestions he is favourite to lead the new group (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Among the ex-Labour MPs there was also anger at what they said was the failure of the party leadership to deal with the spread of anti-Semitism in the party.

However they are likely to face pressure to move quickly to formally establish themselves as a party – with reports that some former Labour backers are ready to help bankroll them.

Mr Umunna, a former shadow minister, played down reports that he was favourite to be the first leader, although he acknowledged that he wanted to play the “biggest role” in the group.

However former Tory Sarah Wollaston told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour: “I think we would all be very happy to see Chuka in that role, but we don’t know over the coming days and weeks whether others will join us and somebody else may emerge.

“But there’s clearly an appetite from the public to know who’s going to be our spokesperson and I think that’s reasonable.”

She predicted that more Tories would quit to join them following Mrs May’s announcement that she was delaying the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal to March 12 – just 17 days before Britain is due to leave.

“I think there are very many MPs who are interested in joining us,” she said.

Lord Falconer
Jeremy Corbyn is said to be considering making Lord Falconer (above) Labour’s anti-Semitism surveillance commissioner (Hannah McKay/PA)

“I think a lot of people are watching to see what happens this week. So I think some of my colleagues will also be considering their positions following that announcement.”

Meanwhile Labour has declined to comment on reports that Jeremy Corbyn is to meet with former justice secretary Lord Falconer of Thoroton to discuss how the party can tackle the issue of anti-Semitism.

Mr Corbyn was said to be considering asking the peer, a former flatmate of Tony Blair, to be the party’s anti-Semitism surveillance commissioner, with full oversight of how it handles complaints and decision-making processes.

Over the weekend deputy leader Tom Watson warned Mr Corbyn that he needed to “eradicate” anti-Semitism in the party if he hoped ever to become prime minister.

After the Jewish MP Luciana Berger was driven out by “racist bullies”, Mr Watson said it was clear that reforms introduced by general secretary Jennie Formby to deal with the issue had failed.

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