Labour MPs’ se­cret ‘dry run’ to form a break­away fac­tion

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - The Agent Boot File - PO­LIT­I­CAL CORRESPONDENT By Bren­dan Car­lin

THE prospect of an anti-Cor­byn split in the Labour Party mounted last night af­ter mod­er­ate MPs ad­mit­ted plot­ting to form a ‘break­away’ fac­tion at West­min­ster.

Mem­bers of the 37-strong Co-Op­er­a­tive Party, who jointly sit as Labour MPs, pri­vately drew up plans to win the right to spon­sor their own Com­mons de­bates sep­a­rately from Labour.

The Mail on Sun­day un­der­stands they se­cretly con­sulted Com­mons clerks to see if Speaker John Ber­cow would grant them a new spe­cial sta­tus at West­min­ster.

The move was qui­etly shelved af­ter the group – which in­cludes arch-Cor­byn crit­ics such as Chris Les­lie as well as Jewish MP Lu­ciana Berger, who has slammed Mr Cor­byn for in­ac­tion over an­ti­Semitism – were told they would have to form a whole new party to qual­ify for the new po­si­tion.

But last night, al­lies of Jeremy Cor­byn branded the abortive move a ‘dry run’ for a ful­lyfledged break­away party.

One ally of the Labour leader said: ‘This was clearly a bid to test the water for that rebel party and it’s com­pletely out­ra­geous. These Labour/Co-Op MPs take the Party Whip so who­ever was re­spon­si­ble should be dis­ci­plined.’

Co-Op party mem­bers hit back last night, claim­ing only some­one with ‘Cor­bynista para­noia’ could see a threat to the Labour leader from the sug­gested ma­noeu­vres.

They also pointed out that their mem­bers in­clude some lead­ing pro-Cor­byn MPs such as Shadow Cabi­net mem­ber Kate Osamor.

But the move emerged amid grow­ing spec­u­la­tion at West­min­ster that plans for a new cen­trist party are be­ing se­cretly pre­pared – de­spite Tony Blair warn­ing yes­ter­day that ‘such an en­deav­our may be im­pos­si­ble’.

One se­nior Labour MP said the new party wanted to hit the ground run­ning by im­me­di­ately re­plac­ing the 35-strong group of SNP MPs as the sec­ond Op­po­si­tion party be­hind Labour in the Com­mons – giv­ing it a lead­ing role in Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions each week. He said: ‘There are var­i­ous cru­cial hur­dles the rebels have to meet but the first is mak­ing sure they launch with more than 35 MPs signed up.

‘That would au­to­mat­i­cally put them ahead of the SNP and re­quire the Speaker to recog­nise them as sec­ond Op­po­si­tion party with the right to put two ques­tions to the PM each week. That’d be im­me­di­ately af­ter Cor­byn, who fails to skewer Theresa May at PMQs ev­ery week, and would let them show how much bet­ter the new party leader is.’

In an al­liance dat­ing back over 90 years, all the Co-Op­er­a­tive Party MPs sit with Labour and a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two par­ties is rarely drawn.

But ear­lier in the sum­mer, CoOp MPs pri­vately raised fears they would not be given the chance to de­bate Mr Cor­byn’s plans to re­na­tion­alise rail­ways.

Last night, lead­ing Co-Op MPs de­nied they had been mak­ing a first move to split the Labour Party, and in­sisted that nei­ther Mr Les­lie nor Ms Berger had been aware of plans to seek spe­cial sta­tus.

Gareth Thomas, chair­man of the Co-Op Party at West­min­ster, said: ‘We have dis­cus­sions about how to op­er­ate in Par­lia­ment all the time so I strug­gle to see how any­one could present this as an anti-Cor­byn thing. We are proud of our shared his­tory with the Labour Party. We look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our joint cam­paign to win the next Elec­tion to­gether.’

COR­BYN CRITIC: Lu­ciana Berger

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