Seven MPs have left the Labour Party to form a new group in the largest exodus from any British parliamentary party since the establishment of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The MPs, who have all been outspoken critics of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, will sit together at Westminster as the Independents' Group. They have not yet agreed to form a political party and will not choose a leader until later this week but Streatham MP Chuka Umunna called on members of other parties to join them.
“We have taken first step in leaving old tribal politics behind. We invite others to do the same. You might come from a Labour background, but you might come from other political traditions,” he said.
Mr Umunna announced his departure from Labour alongside Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith and Gavin Shuker. They criticised Labour's approach to Brexit, which is to advocate customs union membership and close alignment with the single market, and Mr Corbyn's failure to endorse a second referendum.
"In all conscience, we can no longer knock on doors and support a government led by Jeremy Corbyn or the team around him. The evidence of Labour's betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see," said Mr Leslie.
“Choosing to stand by while our constituents’ lives and future opportunities are hurt by Brexit is a fundamental violation of Labour’s traditional values.”
Ms Berger, a Jewish MP who has faced anti-semitic abuse as well as threats of deselection in her Liverpool constituency, said she had become “embarrassed and ashamed” to remain in Labour.
“I cannot remain in the party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is anti-Semitic. I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation,” she said.
Rejecting comparisons with the SDP, the group said they would not merge with the Liberal Democrats although they promised to work with others at Westminster in pursuit of shared values. Mr Corbyn expressed regret at the departure of the MPs, most of whom saw their majorities increase substantially after the 2017 general election.
“I am disappointed that these MPs have 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. Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few – redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change,” he said.
But Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said the party needed to become more tolerant and welcoming if it wanted to stop other MPs from leaving. He called on Mr Corbyn to reshuffle the front bench to better reflect the range of views in the parliamentary Labour party.
“I love this party, but sometimes I no longer recognise it,” he said. “Many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay.”