Seven British lawmakers have quit the main opposition Labor Party over the leadership’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism allegations in the ranks.
The seven moderate members of parliament say they will form an independent group. Their defection is the biggest split in the Labor Party since four senior members quit in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party.
The group told reporters in London’s County Hall Monday that the Labor Party has changed since leader Jeremy Corbyn came to power in 2015 and said the party no longer tolerates center-left views.
“The bottom line is this — politics is broken. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s change it,” said Chuka Umunna, one of the lawmakers.
Chris Leslie, another defector, said: “Marxism is now masquerading as the Labor Party. It has the Labor brand, but it is a machine that has taken over.”
In a direct challenge to Corbyn, the seven centrist parliament members say they are courting other lawmakers to join their group.
One of the group’s chief complaints is that the Labor Party has been complicit in facilitating Brexit. Corbyn has come under fire by some party members for not doing enough to oppose Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU and for not pushing hard enough for a second referendum.
The Labor Party has been divided by the Brexit vote, with many traditional voters, particularly in northern England, having chosen to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum, while a majority of Labor MPs had supported staying in.
Brexit has also divided the country’s Conservative Party into pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings. Britain’s departure from the EU — the terms of which are still up in the air — is set for March 29.
The seven lawmakers also accused Corbyn Monday of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, a charge that has previously been leveled at the Labor leader.
A longtime supporter of Palestinian rights and a critic of the Israeli government, Corbyn denies the allegations, saying he is stamping out anti-Semitism in the party.
Luciana Berger, one of the seven MPs who defected, said Labor has become “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Berger, who is Jewish, said in leaving the Labor Party, “I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”
Corbyn said he was “disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labor policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.”