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Why have MPs quit the UK’s Labour Party and what will they do next? | Euronews answers

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Why have MPs quit the UK’s Labour Party and what will they do next? | Euronews answers
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Seven lawmakers resigned from the UK’s Labour Party on Monday, citing issues with leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism.

Here is everything you need to know.

Which MPs resigned?

The seven MPs who resigned from the party are:

  • Luciana Berger: She has served as MP for Liverpool Wavertree since 2010, and has held several shadow minister positions. The Jewish MP has previously spoken out against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

  • Ann Coffey: She has served as MP for Stockport since 1992 and has held the positions opposition whip and shadow spokeswoman for health. She put forward a no-confidence motion against Corbyn in 2016.

  • Mike Gapes: He has been MP for Ilford South since 1992, and served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for five years. He has been an outspoken critic of Corbyn.

  • Chris Leslie: Currently the MP for Nottingham East, Leslie has held a number of positions in the party, including shadow treasury minister and shadow chancellor. He has said Corbyn would “betray Labour” if he prevented another vote on EU membership.

  • Angela Smith: She has been MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge since 2010 and previously worked as MP for Sheffield Hillsborough. She was a shadow minister for five years, and in 2016 voted against triggering Article 50.

  • Gavin Shuker: The MP for Luton South has held positions including shadow minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and shadow minister for the Department for International Development.

  • Chuka Umunna: The MP for Streatham previously held the position of shadow business secretary. In 2018, he attended the launch of the People’s Vote campaign group, which calls for a public vote on the final Brexit deal.

Why did they leave?

A statement by the group said Labour “pursues policies that would weaken our national security; accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country; has failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach; is passive in circumstances of international humanitarian distress; is hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives.”

Speaking to the media, the lawmakers detailed their personal reasons for leaving the party, which included issues with Labour's handling of Brexit, anti-Semitism and the political beliefs of the leadership.

"The Labour party that we joined, that we campaigned for and believed in is no longer today's Labour Party. We did everything we could to save it, but it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left," Leslie said.

Berger said she could not remain in a party that was "institutionally anti-Semitic."

The established parties in the UK have “put their own party political interests before the national interest,” said Umunna.

You can see the full reasons each of the politicians gave for leaving the party in the video below:

What happens now?

The group has stopped short of forming a new political party and has also ruled out joining another.

The MPs have instead said they will continue to sit in parliament as a splinter movement, called "The Independent Group”.

A “statement of independence” on the group’s website says it will “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest.”

It says its values include backing a “diverse, mixed social market economy”, reducing inequality “through the extension of opportunity” and investing in public services.

As of Monday evening, the group had amassed more than 52,000 followers on Twitter.

Its website calls for volunteers and donations to support the group’s work.

How has the Labour Party reacted?

Corbyn said he was “disappointed” that the 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.”

Deputy leader Tom Watson said it was a "deeply said day for the Labour Party."

“I think our colleagues have come to a premature conclusion. But this is a moment for regret and reflection not for a mood of anger or tone of triumph,” he said in a video statement.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was a "desperately sad day" for the party, describing the seven MPs as friends.

But while reiterating his own commitment to the party, he wrote: "I agree that the only way through the mess of Brexit is to give the public the final say, and that the Labour Party needs to do much more to root out the evil of anti-Semitism."

The youth wing of the Labour Party shared a lyric from the socialist anthem The Red Flag: "Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the red flag flying here."

Is this unprecedented?

While this is an unusual move, it is not the first time that MPs have broken away from the Labour Party.

In 1981, four members of the Labour Party, known as the "gang of four", resigned and formed the Social Democrat Party (SDP).

The SDP later joined an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party, and ultimately merged to become the Liberal Democrats.

“The question now is if history is going to repeat itself," said Euronews correspondent Vincent McAviney.

“Being an extra party in British politics — a very much two-party system — is a difficult game to play."

Get more Euronews analysis on this story by clicking on the player above.