New Independent Group of MPs to meet for first time

The Independent Group MPs Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

MPs in the new Independent Group are to hold their first meeting after dramatically breaking away from their former parties last week.

Eight Labour MPs were followed by three Tories in quitting their parties to form a new centrist grouping in potentially the most significant realignment in British politics in a generation.

After the fanfare and press conferences of last week, they will meet formally for the first time as a group on Monday behind closed doors at Westminster.

Ex-Labour member Chuka Umunna insisted at the weekend that they were not yet a party or a movement, with a fully worked out programme for government, but simply a group of independent MPs.

Members have said they are united by a shared “non-tribal” belief in “progressive” values combined with deep unhappiness at the directions their former parties had taken, particularly on Brexit.Among the ex-Labour MPs there was also anger at what they said was the failure of the party leadership to deal with the spread of anti-Semitism in the party.

However they are likely to face pressure to move quickly to formally establish themselves as a party – with reports that some former Labour backers are ready to help bankroll them.

Mr Umunna, a former shadow minister, played down reports that he was favourite to be the first leader, although he acknowledged that he wanted to play the “biggest role” in the group.

However former Tory Sarah Wollaston told BBC Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour: “I think we would all be very happy to see Chuka in that role, but we don’t know over the coming days and weeks whether others will join us and somebody else may emerge.

The MPs in the new Independent Group hold their first meeting Credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

“But there’s clearly an appetite from the public to know who’s going to be our spokesperson and I think that’s reasonable.”

She predicted that more Tories would quit to join them following Mrs May’s announcement that she was delaying the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal to March 12 – just 17 days before Britain is due to leave.

“I think there are very many MPs who are interested in joining us,” she said.

“I think a lot of people are watching to see what happens this week. So I think some of my colleagues will also be considering their positions following that announcement.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson said she was expecting to meet with the new group later this week, having spoken with some of its members in recent days.

Ms Swinson said the Lib Dems were ready to “work with” the new grouping, though she played down suggestions of a  formal pact between the parties, insisting she had no fixed blueprint for how they should co-operate.

“I think we need to be working together with the Independent Group MPs but we need to find a 2019 way of doing that and I’m open-minded about how that looks,” Ms Swinson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“I want to approach this with a very very open mind, potentially to have radical change. It is not very often we get a moment to break up the broken political system and we have that moment now.”

Asked if that could include Lib Dems agreeing not to stand candidates against the 11 TIG MPs, Ms Swinson said: “I don’t think we should be taking any of these things off the table.”

She added: “I will welcome anyone to the Liberal Democrats who shares my liberal values, and obviously I want more people to join the Lib Dems.

“But I am not going to be petty about this and suggest that I am not going to work with somebody who shares many of my values just because for whatever reason they don’t feel that they can join my party.”