JEREMY Corbyn was hit by a huge blow today as seven centrist MPs quit in protest at his leadership – saying he has made Labour “a racist and anti-Semitic party”.
A group led by Chuka Umunna announced they were walking out at an event in Central London.
PA:Press Association Seven rebel MPs have left Labour – Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Chuka Umunna, Angela Smith and Gavin Shuker
London News Pictures Luciana Berger announcing she is quitting Labour
The other MPs involved are Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Gavin Shuker.
They are forming a new grouping in the House of Commons called “The Independent Group” – but fell short of creating a whole new political party.
The rebels are furious at Mr Corbyn’s Brexit policy and his failure to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.
Ms Berger, the Jewish MP who has faced a torrent of abuse from far-left activists, said: “I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic.”
Mr Leslie, the former Shadow Chancellor, added: “We can no longer knock on doors and support a government led by Jeremy Corbyn and the team around him.”
He said: “This has not been an easy decision for any of us. We have all been Labour MPs for years. But the Labour party we joined is no longer today’s Labour party.”
And Mr Gapes blasted: “I am sickened that the Labour Party is now a racist and anti-Semitic party.
“I am furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit. A Corbyn Labour government would threaten our national security and international alliances.”
Mr Umunna, seen as the most likely leader of the group, said: “Fundamental change is needed. The established parties are not up to this change. They can’t be the change as they have become the problem.”
Laying out the new group’s platform, Mr Shuker said: “We back well-regulated business but expect them to provide decent, secure jobs.
“Government should work to remove barriers of discrimination that hold people back. We believe in a free press and a politics that doesn’t bow to the louder voice.
Fundamental change is needed – the established parties are not up to this changeChuka Umunna
“We are accountable to those who elect us. These are values shared by a majority of the British people – once considered mainstream but not any more.”
The group said they wouldn’t quit their seats in Parliament in order to trigger by-elections – Mr Leslie said: “This is a time of national crisis, by-elections are not what was needed right now.”
Rumours of a split in Labour have swirled ever since Mr Corbyn took power in 2015.
But the party’s divisions were temporarily reduced in the wake of the 2017 General Election where Labour did surprisingly well.
Mr Corbyn said in a statement today: “I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.
“Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few – redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change.
“The Conservative Government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan. When millions are facing the misery of Universal Credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all.”
Three other Labour MPs have walked out of the party in the past year.
Pro-Brexit renegade Frank Field quit in protest at far-left bullying, while John Woodcock and Ivan Lewis resigned while under investigation over sex allegations.
The split will revive memories of the 1980s Social Democratic Party, which was set up by a group of Labour rebels fed up with left-wing leader Michael Foot.
I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for Labour policiesJeremy Corbyn
The SDP briefly came close to winning a General Election, before fizzling out and merging with the Liberals to form the modern-day Lib Dems.
Some pro-Corbyn MPs acted with fury at news of the Labour rebellion.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle dubbed the centrists “cowards”, and called on them to quit their Commons seats and trigger a by-election.
Shadow minister Bill Esterson added: “This split helps the Tories and does nothing for those who need a change of government.”
But other Labour MPs warned that the walkout should be a wake-up call for Mr Corbyn.
Stella Creasy said: “As someone Labour to my core who never ducks a fight I know today Labour has to learn from what’s happened, and not lash out.”
Anna Turley added: “Perhaps the leadership should ask itself why decent hardworking moderate MPs feel there is no place for them in our party.”
Jess Phillips said simply: “I feel so very sad.”
Emily Thornberry, one of Mr Corbyn’s closest allies, warned his followers they would only boost the rebels if they launched a campaign of abuse against them.
She blasted: “If you criticise or abuse these individuals, if you impugn their motives, and if you encourage any others to join them, you are helping them not hurting them.”
The odds of the Labour boss being dethroned this year were slashed to 5/4 at Betfair, down from 2/1.
The SNP’s Pete Wishart predicted the chaos would herald “the beginning of the end” of Labour.
What Labour split could mean for Corbyn – and BrexitTODAY’S Labour split is the most dramatic realignment of the political parties for nearly four decades.
The decision by seven moderates to quit and form a new “Independent Group” in Parliament has rocked the party.
And it could change the path of Brexit – with all seven of the rebels being passionate advocates of a second referendum.
They will use their newfound notoriety to argue for a so-called “People’s Vote” on our EU departure.
But now the anti-Brexiteers have left Labour, there will be less internal pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to back a second referendum.
Today the pro-EU People’s Vote and Best for Britain campaigns were quick to distance themselves from the Independent Group.
Both organisations insisted they are focussed on trying to win the Labour leadership over to their cause.
Mr Corbyn’s closest allies have long expected a split in the party – and some say they’re happy to see the rebels leave.
But it means Labour is now down to 249 MPs, compared to 262 after the 2017 General Election.
That could make it harder for the party to defeat the Tories in key Commons votes.
Bookmaker Betfair slashed the odds on Mr Corbyn leaving his position this year to 5/4, down from 2/1.
If voters agree with the rebels’ argument, it could deliver a huge blow to Labour’s position in the polls.
Previous party splits have failed in breaking the Tory-Labour duopoly in politics.
But they have had huge knock-on effects ultimately lasting decades.
In the 80s, the SDP fell short of its goal of replacing Labour as the main centre-left party.
But it arguably laid the ground for the centrist politics that brought Tony Blair and then David Cameron to power.
And while Ukip never got more than two MPs, the threat the Eurosceptic party posed to the Tories arguably led to Mr Cameron’s momentous decision to hold the EU referendum in 2016.
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Nigel Farage added: “This moment may not look very exciting but it is the beginning of something bigger in British politics.”
Tory chairman Brandon Lewis blasted: “Labour has become the Jeremy Corbyn party – failing to take action on everything from tackling anti-Jewish racism to keeping our country safe.
“We must never let him do to our country what he is doing to the Labour party today.”
PA:Press Association Chuka Umunna is one of the ringleaders of the new grouping
PA:Press Association Angela Smith speaks as other Labour rebels look on
PA:Press Association Jeremy Corbyn, pictured outside his house this morning, faces a rebellion from Labour MPs
Ex-Labour MP Chuka Umunna says millions feel ‘politically homeless’ but there won’t be an alternative party on day one
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