Labour leader struggling to balance conflicting forces in his party over Brexit

Labour and Tory MPs in talks over setting up new centrist party

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Give us a ‘people’s vote’ on Brexit deal: Labour’s Chuka Umunna and Tory Anna Soubry launch all-party alliance to challenge May’s EU plan//
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Discussions could lead to new party consisting of six or more Labour MPs plus some Tories
Dan SabbaghJessica Elgotand Heather Stewart //The Guardian

Intense discussions are taking place at Westminster that could lead to the emergence of a new centrist party consisting of six or more disaffected anti-Brexit Labour MPs along with the involvement of some Conservatives and the backing of the Liberal Democrats.

Labour MPs reported that some of those involved had lobbied backbench colleagues they thought were sympathetic as to how they could “make the shift” away from a tribal loyalty to the party.

The argument put forward was that the set of values that had drawn them to the Labour party, such as European solidarity, free movement, liberalism and anti-racism, could now be found elsewhere.

Those involved in the talks say frustrations over pro-Brexit policies pursued by Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May, coupled with Labour-specific concerns about antisemitism, have taken a handful of MPs to the point where they are seriously considering quitting.

Labour MPs at the centre of the discussions include Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Angela Smith and Gavin Shuker, signalling their intention to ratchet up the pressure on Corbyn in the hope he will whip his MPs to back an amendment calling for a second referendum.

“It’s time to start to make them realise that this is existential for the leadership,” said one potential splitter.

Luciana Berger has also been seriously considering her position as a Labour MP because of her dissatisfaction at the party’s approach to Brexit and the handling of antisemitism cases.

Close friends within Labour have been trying to persuade Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, to stay over recent days. Some party colleagues say that if she were to go it could represent a tipping point.

Conservative MPs considering their futures, according to those involved in the talks, include Sarah Wollaston, the MP for Totnes, Anna Soubry, the MP for Broxtowe, and Heidi Allen, who represents South Cambridgeshire.

The three have cooperated closely with Labour MPs as part of the People’s Vote second referendum campaign, and were all lead signatories of an amendment on Thursday that forced the government to agree to release no-deal cabinet documents.

Those involved in the discussions believe that a crunch point could come at the end of February, when pro-EU Labour MPs desperately want Corbyn to back a second referendum and restless Conservatives want May to rule out no deal of she cannot get a revised Brexit agreement through parliament.

Another idea circulating is that the new group could be called the Reformist party, with the Lib Dems contributing national and local resources. “There are a lot of generals here without an army – well the Lib Dems have an army of members,” one MP involved said.

A Labour MP contacted by members of the group said he believed there were around a dozen MPs in his party close to quitting. Those involved in the organisation are understood to have conducted significant polling, including in target constituencies.

“I honestly believe this is imminent. You will see the values emphasised first, rather than policies to help people make that change. There are the names that are public but others are involved, including in the organisation of it, who have never been named,” the MP said.

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EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shakes hands with Prime Minister Theresa May as she

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn facing threat of an ‘MPs breakaway’ after Valentine’s Day Brexit vote

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Jeremy Corbyn is also facing a fresh challenge over his handling of anti-Semitism allegations within the party (Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

At least six MPs are said to be contemplating a breakaway move

Nigel Morris is Political Editor of i. He has been a lobby correspondent for 28 years, previously working for the Independent, Daily Mirror and Birmingham Post.

AIWA! NEWS INTERNATIONAL|Labour unity is under intense strain amid new claims that MPs disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit are preparing to quit the party whip and form a new parliamentary grouping.

According to one report, the first defection could come as early as 14 February, immediately after the next round of Commons votes on Brexit. Mr Corbyn will also face a fresh challenge on Monday over his handling of anti-Semitism allegations within the party at what is expected to be a fractious meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

At least six MPs are said to be contemplating a breakaway, with the move led by backbenchers dismayed by their leader’s opposition to a second referendum on Brexit.

Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said his party had been in talks with Labour MPs – as well as Tories – over how to thwart Brexit.

“When the Brexit issue is resolved one way or another, I think they will reconsider their position in the Labour Party,” he said.

“I can’t predict exactly what will happen but I think there’s a real chance of a significant group breaking away,” he told Sky News.

Long-standing rumours of a new centrist grouping have grown at Westminster as the parliamentary skirmishing over Brexit intensifies ahead of next month’s scheduled departure date. Several wealthy benefactors are said to be on stand-by to bankroll the group, particularly if it manages to attract Conservative as well as Labour MPs.

Cloud of scandal Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party, wants to ensure the anti-Semitism row is dealt with

Monday’s PLP session, MPs will urge Mr Corbyn to prove that the leadership has got to grips with the anti-Semitism row which has dogged the party for more than two years. A motion will give him a week to set out how he is addressing the allegations.

Deputy leader Tom Watson suggested last year that Labour’s general secretary,  should step down if the anti-Semitism row had not been dealt with by Christmas. He said Ms Formby had “staked” her career on dealing with anti-Semitism in Labour, after taking over from Iain McNicol in April 2018.

Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston said: “I’ve made it clear for many weeks that I would not remain in a party that planned to inflict No Deal on its people. Rather than her current coercive approach, the PM could and should take this off the table.”