7 law­mak­ers quit Labour Party, cit­ing Brexit con­cerns and anti-Semitism

Those who left Bri­tish op­po­si­tion party will sit as in­de­pen­dent group

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY KARLA ADAM AND WIL­LIAM BOOTH

lon­don — Seven pro-Europe law­mak­ers abruptly quit the op­po­si­tion Labour Party on Mon­day over their frus­tra­tion with party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s han­dling of Brexit and anti-Semitism al­le­ga­tions in the ranks.

The seven said that they would sit in Par­lia­ment as an in­de­pen­dent group. Their de­fec­tion cre­ates new op­por­tu­ni­ties and com­pli­ca­tions for the up­com­ing votes on how Bri­tain leaves the Euro­pean Union next month — if it leaves at all.

At a morn­ing news con­fer­ence, Par­lia­ment mem­ber Lu­ciana Berger said she had be­come “em- bar­rassed” and “ashamed” of the Labour Party, which she said was “in­sti­tu­tion­ally anti-Semitic.” Berger, who is Jew­ish, added she was leav­ing be­hind a cul­ture of “bul­ly­ing, big­otry and in­tim­i­da­tion.”

Chris Les­lie, an­other break­away law­maker, said the party had been “hi­jacked by the ma­chine pol­i­tics of the hard left” and that Labour’s “be­trayal on Europe was vis­i­ble for all to see.” While many Labour party mem­bers sup­port a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on whether to leave the Euro­pean Union, Corbyn has been cold to the idea of a do-over.

Les­lie said, how­ever, that “our differences go far deeper than Brexit” — re­veal­ing the depth of an­tipa­thy to­ward the 69-year-old Corbyn, whose self-de­scribed “rad­i­cal” agenda for Bri­tain en­er­gized new and young vot­ers in the last elec­tion but has alien­ated the cen­ter of the party.

“The last three years have con­firmed how ir­re­spon­si­ble it would be to al­low this leader of the op­po­si­tion to take the of­fice of prime min­is­ter of the United King­dom. Many peo­ple still in the Labour Party will pri­vately ad­mit this to be true,” Les­lie said.

“The pur­suit of poli­cies that would threaten our na­tional se­cu­rity through hos­til­ity to NATO. The re­fusal to act when needed to help those when fac­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­tress, pre­fer­ring to be­lieve states hos­tile to our coun­try rather than be­liev­ing our po­lice and se­cu­rity ser­vices — these are all rooted in the Labour lead­er­ship’s ob­ses­sion with a nar­row, out­dated ide­ol­ogy,” Les­lie said.

Corbyn said he was “dis­ap­pointed” with the res­ig­na­tions but boasted of “the Labour poli­cies that in­spired mil­lions at the last elec­tion and saw us in­crease our vote by the largest share since 1945.” Un­der the ban­ner “for the many, not the few,” Labour votes surged in 2017, deny­ing Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment.

Labour law­mak­ers said they were dis­mayed by the news of the res­ig­na­tions.

Lucy Pow­ell, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, tweeted that it was the “wrong de­ci­sion.” But she said that her friend and for­mer col­league Berger had been sub­ject to “de­spi­ca­ble and ap­palling abuse.”

“Her leav­ing must make us re­dou­ble our ef­forts to tackle all an­tisemitism in the Party,” Pow­ell tweeted.

Corbyn has con­ceded that an­tiSemitism is “a real prob­lem that Labour is work­ing to over­come.”

In a piece in the Guardian last year, Corbyn re­vealed that in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions of on­line chat­ter among party mem­bers found dis­turb­ing ev­i­dence that an­tiJewish “poi­son” was present. “Labour staff have seen ex­am­ples of Holo­caust de­nial, crude stereo­types of Jew­ish bankers, con­spir­acy the­o­ries blam­ing 9/11 on Is­rael, and even one in­di­vid­ual who ap­peared to be­lieve that Hitler had been mis­un­der­stood,” Corbyn wrote.

Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan, a star in the Labour Party, said he wished the de­part­ing mem­bers would have stayed: “This is a des­per­ately sad day. These seven MPs are all friends of mine.”

Writ­ing on his Face­book page, Khan agreed that there needed to be an­other Brexit ref­er­en­dum and that Labour needed to do more to “root out the evil of an­tiSemitism.”

But he ar­gued it should be done from within the party.

“When the Labour Party splits it only leads to one out­come — a Tory gov­ern­ment — and that means a hard Tory Brexit,” he wrote.

The de­fec­tion of a small num­ber of mem­bers of Par­lia­ment can dra­mat­i­cally change the po­lit­i­cal math, es­pe­cially now, when Labour and the gov­ern­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party are both bit­terly di­vided over the way for­ward on Brexit.

In 2014, two Con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­tors de­fected to the U.K. Inde- pen­dence Party, which rat­tled the Tories and con­trib­uted to then­Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s de­ci­sion to call for the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and set­tle the mat­ter once and for all in his own party.

The Labour res­ig­na­tions on Mon­day were be­ing com­pared to the rup­ture in 1981 — un­til now, the big­gest split in Labour — when four heavy-hit­ting Labour law­mak­ers broke away to form the So­cial Demo­cratic Party.

Vince Cable, leader of the Lib­eral Democrats, a small cen­ter­left party, told the BBC he was keen to work with the new group, which he spec­u­lated could grow in com­ing days.

“We shouldn’t for­get the Con­ser­va­tives are also very badly split and there are quite a few of them who no longer see a fu­ture in the Con­ser­va­tive Party,” Cable said. “So I think this is the be­gin­ning, rather than the end, of some­thing rather im­por­tant.”

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