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Seven Labour lawmakers resign in UK, in rebuke of Corbyn

Former Labour party MPs, (From Left) Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, and Gavin Shuker pose for a photograph following a press conference in London on February 18, 2019, where they announced their resignation from the Labour Party, and the formation of a new independent group of MPs. - Seven MPs from Britain's opposition Labour Party on Monday announced they were breaking away in protest at the party leadership's support for Brexit and its failure to stamp out anti-Semitism. Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference in London, the seven attacked party chief Jeremy Corbyn for leading the party to the far left and said they would sit as an independent group in parliament. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Leal-Olivia/AFP/Getty Images
The seven Labour party MPs who resigned on Monday; (from left) Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, and Gavin Shuker.

LONDON — A bitter internal struggle within Britain’s opposition Labour Party burst into open warfare Monday, when seven lawmakers resigned, castigating their left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and calling for a movement to champion a brand of new, more centrist, politics.

The development raises the intriguing — if still distant — possibility of a realignment of British politics, coming at a moment of significant flux, with both main political parties divided while also appearing to flee the political center ground.

On Monday the rebel Labour lawmakers accused Corbyn of equivocating over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and tolerating anti-Semitism, with some of them professing embarrassment or shame about the state of the party they had spent years serving.

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Labour and the governing Conservatives both appear to be buckling as they grapple with the ramifications of Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union, or Brexit.

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“Both of the main parties are pulling away from the center ground, where traditionally British elections are won,” said Tony Travers, a professor of government at the London School of Economics. “Many members of Parliament in both parties think that the current situation can’t go on; they don’t think it can remain stable.

“The question,” he added, “is whether there is a potential correcting mechanism with British politics that means that the broad mass of moderate voters can find a way of voting for moderate members of Parliament, to bring politics back from the extreme left and the Brexit hard right.”

That will not be easy. The seven rebel lawmakers will sit as independents in Parliament, having decided not to establish a new political party, at least for now. Doing so is difficult in Britain because the country’s electoral system makes it hard for smaller groups to win representation in Parliament.

Nevertheless, in some parts of Europe, new political forces have exploited the weakness of existing parties, including in France, where President Emmanuel Macron successfully created a new centrist movement.

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In Britain, Travers noted, there is “a gaping gap” in politics. Under Corbyn, Labour has both its most left-wing leader in decades and a lifelong critic of the European Union, who has resisted demands from some of his lawmakers and party members to support another referendum on Brexit.

That has left the party’s more pragmatic lawmakers on the defensive, confronting the prospect of something they fear could be an economic catastrophe.

The seven lawmakers gave differing reasons for their resignations when they addressed the media. Luciana Berger, who represents Liverpool Wavertree, has been a vocal critic of Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations, and was threatened with a vote of no-confidence by local party activists, a motion that was eventually withdrawn.

Corbyn, who is a vehement and unapologetic critic of the current Israeli government, has failed to shake off claims that he has tolerated anti-Semitism within Labour’s ranks.

“I cannot remain in a party that I have come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic,” said Berger, who is Jewish.

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Chris Leslie, a former minister, said that the Labour Party had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left” and criticized “Labour’s betrayal on Europe.”

And Chuka Umunnaappealed to voters to help forge a new movement. “We have taken the step in leaving the old politics behind and invite others to do the same,” he said.