Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons for her weekly Prime Minister's Questions in London, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. May is due to go the Brussels to meet EU leaders for further negotiation on Brexit. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

UK politics fractures further as 3 Conservatives defect

February 20, 2019 - 8:03 am

LONDON (AP) — Cracks in Britain's political party system yawned wider Wednesday, as three pro-European lawmakers quit the governing Conservatives to join a newly formed centrist group of independents who are opposed to the government's plan for Britain's departure from the European Union.

Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston said they will join eight ex-opposition Labour Party lawmakers in the new alliance dubbed the Independent Group. The defections represent a small fraction of the 650 lawmakers in the House of Commons, but mark the biggest shake-up in years for Britain's political parties.

In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, the trio accused the Conservative Party of abandoning the political center ground, and said "the final straw for us has been this government's disastrous handling of Brexit."

With Britain's departure from the EU due on March 29 and no deal on divorce terms yet agreed upon by British lawmakers, the three former Conservatives accused their own government of "recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal."

May said she was saddened by the decision, but said the government was "doing the right thing for our country" by implementing voters' decision to leave the EU.

The three join eight Labour rebels who quit the main opposition party this week over its direction under left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn. They accuse him of mounting a weak opposition to May's plans for leaving the EU and of failing to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party.

Joan Ryan, one of the ex-Labour legislators, said the party had become "infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism" under Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians.

There have long been signs that voters' 2016 decision to leave the EU could spark a major overhaul of British politics, because Brexit has split both the Conservatives and Labour down the middle into feuding pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings.

The breakaway lawmakers hope to gain members from among disgruntled pro-Europeans in both the Labour and Conservative parties, with a view to forging a new force in the center of British politics.

"Both our parties are broken. We are going to #ChangePolitics for the better," the group tweeted Wednesday.

It's unclear whether the splintering of the long-dominant Conservative and Labour parties will help break Britain's political impasse over Brexit. Last month British lawmakers rejected the divorce agreement agreed upon by May's government and the EU, and May's attempts to win changes to the deal from Brussels have not borne fruit.

Members of the Independent Group want to hold a new referendum on Brexit that could keep Britain in the 28-nation bloc. May's Conservative government opposes that idea, and Labour under Corbyn has been lukewarm about it.


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