3 Conservative MPs join The Independent Group

Amy Fisher

The departure of Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Dr Sarah Wollaston from the Conservative benches gives The Independent Group more MPs than the government’s confidence and supply partners, the DUP.

Early morning headlines led with the news that an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, had left Labour for the nascent ‘TIG’ (The Independent Group), amid briefings of their ranks soon to be joined by Tory counterparts. By mid-morning the rumours became fact. Conservative MPs Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Dr Sarah Wollaston issued a joint letter to Prime Minister May, making their position on Brexit unequivocally clear: they accused the party of “recklessly marching the country towards the cliff edge of no deal.”

That these three have quit won’t have come as that much of a surprise to the Parliamentary Party. They have been thorns in the side of Tory whips for months.  As Conservatives watched Labour yesterday smashing itself on the rocks (albeit while their leader Corbyn seemed not to care a great deal), cooler heads knew that this would only make departures from their own side more likely.

I wouldn’t advise betting against a ‘drip drip’ of joiners, from both sides, to the TIG continuing over the coming days. My former colleagues at CCHQ and the team at Number 10 will have taken little comfort from ex-Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s words that he has ‘no current plans’ to quit the Conservatives. They will be keeping a close eye on Dr Phillip Lee. Ian Austin, a former PPS to Gordon Brown, has publicly said he is “thinking long and hard” about whether to leave Labour. The other end of the House has thus far been quiet; but when might a noble Lord break ranks?

‘Changing politics for the better’ is indeed a noble rallying cry, reminiscent of the Social Democratic Party’s promise to ‘break the mould of British politics.’ But it might be optimistically glossing over how the TIG will operate in practice. By way of example, Soubry has been mostly wholly aligned with Conservative policy, apart from on the single issue of Brexit. Set that against Ms Berger, shamefully hounded out of Labour by anti-Semitism after years of passionate Labour activism. Agreement on wider policy issues those two motivations do not make.

But immediately, Allen et al’s departure from the Conservatives causes the PM a real headache. The TIG has more members (11) than the DUP, May’s confidence and supply partners on whom she has since 2017 been reliant to get votes through Parliament. She now has an even slimmer Commons majority with which to try and pass her Brexit deal. A vote is expected next week, as Government ministers (Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt today) continue to tour Europe in an attempt to secure further concessions on the problematic Northern Ireland backstop.

But Mrs May’s troubles don’t even stop there. The European Research Group of Conservative MPs, the ‘party within a party’ to which the Allen-Soubry-Wollaston letter refers, still needs to be placated in some way (which may be legitimately questioned as even being possible at all). If her Brexit deal does not do that, there may yet be another schism on the not-too-distant horizon.

Prior to joining MHP, Amy Fisher was a Conservative Party Adviser – as a Special Adviser at the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and as Director of External Affairs, Outreach and Special Projects at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.