'Politics is broken': Seven Labour MPs quit amid Brexit chaos

MPs accuse Jeremy Corbyn of leading Labour to the far left and failing to clamp down on alleged anti-Semitism.

    The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, almost three years after nearly 52 percent of Britons voted to quit the bloc [Simon Dawson/Reuters]
    The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, almost three years after nearly 52 percent of Britons voted to quit the bloc [Simon Dawson/Reuters]

    Seven members Britain's main opposition Labour Party have resigned in protest at leader Jeremy Corbyn's approach to Brexit and his handling of alleged anti-Semitism, just days before crucial parliamentary votes on Brexit.

    Speaking on Monday at a hastily arranged news conference in London, the seven MPs - Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey - said Labour had been "hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left".

    Berger accused Labour of having become "institutionally anti-Semitic".

    "I have become embarrassed and ashamed to represent the Labour Party … [and] I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation," she said.

    Labour has been dogged by allegations the party has become hostile to Jews under Corbyn, a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights and critic of the Israeli government, despite him repeatedly stating anti-Semitism has no place in the party.

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    In a direct challenge to his leadership, the centrist MPs said they were courting others from across parliament to join their group, saying "enough is enough" in keeping silent over their doubts about the Labour leader's fitness for office.

    "If you want an alternative please help us build it," said Umunna. who has led a cross-party campaign for a second referendum on Brexit and was once seen as a potential Labour leader.

    "Politics is broken. It doesn't have to be this way."

    The move marks the most serious split in British politics since the so-called "Gang of Four" heavyweight Labour moderates quit to form the Social Democratic Party in 1981, with 28 Labour MPs eventually joining.

    Divisions laid bare

    In a founding statement on its website, the seven MPs - who all back another referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union - said it would "pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology".

    Reacting to the announcement, Corbyn said he was "disappointed" that the group "felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945".

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    "Now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all," he added.

    On Sunday, John McDonnell, Labour's shadow chancellor, warned that a party split could prevent the opposition from getting into power.

    Labour's share of the vote increased by more than nine percent in the UK's 2017 general election, with the party winning 262 seats in the 650-member Commons.

    McDonnell told the BBC that it would be "like the 1980s" when the formation of the moderate Social Democratic party allowed Margaret Thatcher to stay on as prime minister.

    "It basically installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade," he said.

    Brexit frustrations boil

    Monday’s split reflects the growing divisions within British politics over Brexit, which has broken down traditional party lines and created new ad hoc coalitions.

    The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union in less than 40 days, on March 29, but is yet to sign off on a formal agreement with the bloc on the terms of its withdrawal and their future relationship.

    Embattled Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to get MPs to sign off on her Brexit deal, brokered after months of fractious negotiations between London and Brussels, with the main sticking point being the agreement's so-called "backstop" clause.

    The mechanism would guarantee no re-establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event that post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU prove unsuccessful.

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    Critics of the clause - which proposes that the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, remain in a customs union with the EU "unless and until" the bloc agrees there is no prospect of a return to a hard border - argue it could tie the United Kingdom into the EU's orbit indefinitely.

    May is due to update parliament about her talks with EU counterparts on February 27, when parliamentarians will again vote on her strategy.

    The opposition fears that May is attempting to run down the clock before March 29 in order to leave MPs with a stark choice of either accepting her deal or crashing out of the European Union without any agreement.

    Nearly 52 percent of Britons - more than 17 million people - voted to leave the EU during the UK's June 2016 referendum. Turnout for the poll was more than 72 percent.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies