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3 UK Conservative MPs resign from party

LONDON — Three Conservative MPs resigned from their party to join The Independent Group of eight Labour MPs who earlier this week formed a breakaway centrist faction in parliament.

The three MPs — Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry — have been highly critical of Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy on Brexit and have voted against the government on that issue.

In a joint letter to the prime minister they accuse May of a “shift to the right” and of being “firmly in the grip” of the Brexiteer group of backbenchers, the European Research Group, and the Democratic Unionist Party.

“Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up ‘red lines,’” they wrote. “The 48% were not only sidelined, they were alienated.

“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernize it. There has been a mismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, publicly and privately funded, with its own leader, whip and policy,” they added.

And they said it was “unconscionable” that May was “marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal.”

“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”

May issued a statement saying she was “saddened” by the decision of the three MPs. “Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy,” the prime minister said.

“But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future.” And she said that she was “determined” that the Tories should offer “decent, moderate and patriotic politics.”

Patrick McLaughlin, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, played down the split. “We’ve had people leave the party before and they’ve gone on to not be noticed,” he told Sky News.

Asked whether May could have done more to prevent the move. “I don’t think she could have done more. She has been working tirelessly,” he said.

May’s Conservatives do not have a majority in parliament and are only able to govern because of a confidence and supply deal with the DUP.

Wollaston has been chair of the Commons health committee since November 2017. In that role she has produced numerous reports criticizing her Tory government’s management of the National Health Service and budget cuts.

Helen Collis contributed reporting.

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