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7 U.K. Lawmakers Quit Labour Party And Form Independent Group


Much of the recent political turmoil in the United Kingdom has focused on the struggle to come up with a viable plan for leaving the EU. That's been a major stumbling block for Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party. Now the opposition Labour Party is facing its own critical moment. Seven Labour members of Parliament broke off from their party on Monday.

Robert Shrimsley is the chief U.K. political commentator for the Financial Times, and he joins us now. Mr. Shrimsley, thanks for being here.


MARTIN: Who are these members of Parliament? And why are they leaving Labour?

SHRIMSLEY: OK. Well, the first thing to say is that none of them will be names that mean anything to anybody outside of the United Kingdom, and many of them are not names that mean anything to people within the United Kingdom. But they are relatively prominent or longstanding members of the Labour Party, Labour MPs, people on the right of the Labour Party who feel, for a number of different reasons, that it no longer works for them. Partly, it is about Brexit. Brexit divided the Labour Party, too, though not as extremely as it divides the Conservative Party. Partly, it is about some of the appalling anti-Semitism and bullying that's been tolerated within Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

But primarily, I think it's because the Labour Party has taken an extremely leftward turn, which they no longer feel comfortable with. They no longer feel comfortable with its economic policies. They no longer feel comfortable with its security and foreign policies. And they no longer feel comfortable with the way it's run.

MARTIN: We've got a clip here of Luciana Berger, a member of Parliament, at a press conference announcing this split. Let's listen here.


LUCIANA BERGER: The leadership has willfully and repeatedly failed to address hatred against Jewish people within its ranks. And it is for these reasons and many more that I have made this decision today.

MARTIN: Where is this coming from? Is this a byproduct of the Brexit debate?

SHRIMSLEY: No, it's got nothing to do with Brexit. I think it fundamentally springs from the the very, very deep-rooted anti-Americanism, which - of the leadership of the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him essentially see America as the great evil in the world. And as a result of which, they have always sided with the causes which are identifiable as anti-Americanism, with the groups fighting America. One of these has made them very, very hostile to the state of Israel and very, very pro-Palestinian.

Now, that's a perfectly legitimate mainstream view, of course. But it has seeped over, and they have been very, very careless in the kind of friendships and alliances they keep so that anybody who is anti-Israel is accepted as a friend by these people. And some of those people are deeply anti-Semitic. And the culture and language has bled into too much of the mainstream Labour Party. And I mean, Luciana Berger - who you quoted there - she had to have a police escort walking her around her own party conference last year because of the threats to her. Not all of these threats are from Labour Party. Some of these are from right-wing threats. But a culture of anti-Semitism has been tolerated and fostered in a wing of the Labour Party, which is now in control of that party.

MARTIN: So what difference does it make that these seven people - we should note it's seven out of more than 200 Labour members of Parliament. So it's not a huge number. So what difference does it make?

SHRIMSLEY: Well, the question is - if it stays at seven, then it won't make much difference at all. The issue is whether these are a vanguard, an advanced party. There's many, many other Labour MPs who share most of their views and most of their discomfort in the Labour Party and would be just as horrified as they are about Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister. They're just not ready to jump. The question is, are they an advanced party, or are they the only party?

MARTIN: Is Theresa May commenting on this at all?

SHRIMSLEY: I think - I haven't seen a direct comment from her. She'll certainly be enjoying it. But it's a problem for her, too, because there are Conservatives who are just as unhappy with what's happening in their party. And some of them will be a target for this new breakaway group as well.

MARTIN: Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times, thanks for your insight into this. We appreciate it.

SHRIMSLEY: Pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE'S "180 SECONDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.