Questions about the launch of the new Independent Group of MPs

Former Labour MPs (left to right) Chris Leslie (Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, (both hidden left), Gavin Shuker, Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna and Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The formation of the new Independent Group has sparked a series of questions about the group, its members, who else might join them and what happens next.

Here are the answers to some of the most common questions.

  • Who are they?

The Independent Group was launched this morning by seven former Labour MPs – Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Mike Gapes (Ilford South), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Gavin Shuker (Luton South) and Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) – who quit the party in protest at the direction it is taking under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

  • So is this a new party?

This is not entirely clear. They have said that they will sit together as a group in the House of Commons and they have issued a joint statement of principles and values, setting them aside from the other independents in Parliament who sit as individuals. However, Mr Umunna made clear that the Independent Group does not yet have the infrastructure or funding of a political party, and it is yet to recruit the network of activists which traditional parties enjoy. Roles and responsibilities have yet to be shared out between the seven, and the group currently has no leader.

  • What drove them out of Labour?

The seven MPs have long been disgruntled with Labour’s move to the left under Mr Corbyn. They blame the Labour leader for not throwing the party’s weight behind a second Brexit referendum. And they accuse him of failing to deal effectively with complaints of anti-Semitism and bullying within the party. They were also vulnerable to left-wing activists’ efforts to deselect MPs deemed to be too “centrist” ahead of the next general election.

  • What happens next?

The group say they will meet formally later this week, at which point jobs may be shared out. They have explicitly appealed for MPs from all sides of politics to quit their parties and join them. Their long-term chances of success may well depend on whether they make any high-profile recruits in Parliament, and whether supporters sign up in significant numbers. The upcoming by-election in Newport West, whose Labour MP Paul Flynn died on the eve of the group’s launch, could provide an early test of their electoral attractiveness, though it is not yet clear whether they will stand a candidate.

  • Who might join them?

There are large swathes of the Parliamentary Labour Party who are known to be dissatisfied with Mr Corbyn’s leadership – 172 of them voted no confidence him in 2016. However, many of these would not consider leaving Labour, both because of personal commitment to the party and because they doubt the chances of a new grouping making a significant impact. The fact that only seven MPs were willing to join Monday’s launch suggests the group has struggled to win converts from within Labour. Members of the new group have forged strong links with MPs from other parties during the campaign for a second referendum, some of whom are themselves facing the threat of deselection. All eyes will be on Tory MPs like Sarah Wollaston, Anna Soubry Nick Boles and Heidi Allen, though none of them have indicated that they intend to leave the Conservatives.

  • What about the Liberal Democrats?

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has previously spoken enthusiastically about the prospect of a “realignment” of the political landscape. He responded to the launch by saying his party was “open to working with like-minded groups and individuals” and would be engaging in talks on both the referendum issue and a wider political agenda. His comments suggest he may resist any attempt at a “reverse takeover” of the Lib Dems by the new group to create a new centre party.

Labour’s John McDonnell urged the seven MPs to stand down and fight for their seats Credit: PA
  • What will Labour do next?

Many activists welcomed the resignations as an opportunity to rid Labour’s ranks of MPs whose views do not chime with those of the leadership. The party can be expected to select new candidates for the seven seats in the confident hope of regaining them at the next general election. But Mr Corbyn also faces the delicate task of deciding whether he wants to preserve Labour’s position as a “big tent” taking in a wide spectrum of liberal, social democrat and socialist views or focus the party more narrowly as a left-wing operation.

  • Do the MPs who have resigned from Labour have to face re-election?

No. Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell has challenged them to “do the right thing” and fight to retain their seats, but members of the group have indicated they have no intention of doing so. Under the UK’s democratic system, MPs are elected as individuals and remain in post until the next election unless they stand down voluntarily, and are only removed for reasons such as being jailed for over a year or are subject to a recall petition.

  • Could constituents unseat them with a recall petition?

No, a recall petition can only be initiated if an MP is jailed or receives a suspended custodial sentence, is barred from the House of Commons for 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days or is convicted of providing false information in relation to allowances.

Chuka Umunna urged MPs from all parties to join the Independent Group Credit: PA
  • Are these the first MPs Jeremy Corbyn has lost?

No. A series of prominent figures from the Ed Miliband era, such as Tristram Hunt, Michael Dugher and Jamie Reed, quit Parliament to take up other jobs after apparently deciding there was no future in the party for them. Veteran former minister Frank Field cited anti-Semitism and bullying when he resigned to become an independent. John Woodcock and Ivan Lewis left the party to sit as independents, complaining that disciplinary action against them was being dragged out for political reasons. Jared O’Mara quit days after being reinstated after a lengthy investigation into social media posts. Kelvin Hopkins is suspended pending the completion of an inquiry into sexual harassment allegations, which he denies. And Fiona Onasanya was expelled after being jailed for lying about a speeding offence.