Welwyn Hatfield politicians react to party defections to the Independent Group

Labour's Rosie Newbigging and Conservative MP Grant Shapps have spoken out about the Independent Gro

Labour's Rosie Newbigging and Conservative MP Grant Shapps have spoken out about the Independent Group MPs leaving their respective parties. Pictures: supplied - Credit: supplied

They don’t agree on much, but neither of Welwyn Hatfield’s Conservative or Labour representatives are particularly impressed with the cabal of politicians who defected from both parties to form the centrist Independent Group.

Since last week, a total of 11 Brexit-sceptic politicians have left their respective parties.

Labour’s eight defectors said they could no longer endorse either Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Brexit or stand by during the accusations of antisemitism that have dogged the party.

The next day, they were followed into the political centre by three Tory MPs, Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston, and Anna Soubry.

They wrote to Theresa May complaining that the party had shifted to the hard right, objecting to the influence of the European Research Group (ERG), a hard-Brexiteer wing within the Tories.

(back row left to right) Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left

(back row left to right) Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left to right) Angela Smith, Luciana Berger and Ann Coffey, (front row, left to right) Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Joan Ryan, following a press conference for the Independent Group where the three Conservative MPs, Wollaston, Allen and Soubry, announced their resignation from the party. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday February 20, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Labour. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps, a self-described centrist, said it was sad to see the three Conservatives leave.

“I don’t think that because somebody believes in leaving [the EU] that that makes them extreme,” he said.

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“What I objected to was the linking of people that wanted to leave, with extremists.”

Denying that the party has shifted further right, he said: “What are the policies where we’ve moved to the right?

“When I think about most of the ERG, there’s nothing particularly extreme about these guys I think.”

“It’s really sad to see them go,” he said, but added that he didn’t think the politicians should stand in a by-election.

“The last thing we need now is 11 or 12 elections,” he said.

“I don’t have many objections to waiting for the next election.”

Ms Newbigging is also not impressed with the Labour renegades, saying she is “very disappointed” in them and thinks they should fight by-elections.

Despite their criticisms about Brexit, she pointed out that the current Labour policy that they object to was agreed “overwhelmingly” at the last party conference.

This includes respecting the referendum result and demanding that Brexit pass six key tests before the UK leaves: “A Brexit which protects jobs, the economy, rights (worker, consumer, human and environmental rights), works for all regions of the UK and rejects any hard border in the island of Ireland,” as Ms Newbigging describes it.

On accusations of antisemitism, she said that the party’s General Secretary has taken “extensive action” to tackle allegations, and that the party has a zero tolerance approach.

She said she abhors all forms of racism, including antisemitism. “I was deeply moved and honoured to attend, the second year in a row, the national Holocaust Memorial Ceremony in London in January, which Jeremy Corbyn also attended,” she said.

“We heard moving testimonies from survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides including Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia.

“It was a deeply moving and unforgettable experience.

“We must never allow hate to triumph over hope, peace and love.”

Ultimately, Ms Newbigging said the Labour party should show unity so that the party can defeat “this awful Tory government which has inflicted misery on millions of people through increased poverty, the decimation of public services and a programme of austerity which has disadvantaged the most vulnerable people in our society.”

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