Former Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell says he is "extremely sorry it has come to this" after three Tory MPs resigned from the party to join The Independent Group.

But he said Conservative MPs should stay in the party and "fight your corner" rather than quitting.

Mr Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, spoke after former Tory MPs Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston wrote to Prime Minister and Conservative leader Theresa May to say they quit.

They are to join forces with the eight Labour MPs including Luciana Berger and Chuka Ummuna, who have formed a new centre-ground Independent Group in the House of Commons.

The group could eventually become a new political party.

Mr Mitchell said: "I'm extremely sorry it has come to this.

"On the whole in politics it is better to stand and fight your corner within your party rather than cast yourself adrift.

"I'm particularly sorry they have decided to go."

 

Writing to the Prime Minister to inform her of their decision, the three ex-Tory MPs MPs said the Conservative Party was now dominated by the European Research Group (ERG), a group of pro-Brexit Tories led by high-profile backbencher Jacob Rees Mogg, and by the Northern Ireland party the DUP, which Mrs May has formed a partnership with.

They said: "We no longer feel we can remain in the Party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.

Anna Soubry



“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hard line ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy.”

The three MPs are all supporters of a "soft" Brexit or a second referendum which could lead to Brexit being cancelled entirely. Commenting on the Government’s handling of Brexit, they said: "The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.

“Following the EU referendum of 2016, no genuine effort was made to build a cross party, let alone a national consensus to deliver Brexit. Instead of seeking to heal the divisions or to tackle the underlying causes of Brexit, the priority was to draw up 'red lines'. The 48% were not only sidelined, they were alienated."

 

They claimed that both Labour and the Conservative Party had moved to the "fringes", leaving centre-ground voters without anyone to support.

“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”

On joining The Independent Group, they said: "We intend to sit as independents alongside the Independent Group of MPs in the centre ground of British politics.

"There will be times when we will support the Government, for example, on measures to strengthen our economy, security and improve our public services. But we now feel honour bound to put our constituents’ and country’s interests first."

Heidi Allen was elected as the Member of Parliament for South Cambridgeshire in 2015. She has criticised the Government over issues such as Universal Credit.

Anna Soubry is perhaps the most well-known anti-Brexit Tory MP, alongside veteran Conservative Ken Clarke.

 

She became the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe at the 2010 General Election.

She is a founding member of the People’s Vote campaign for a referendum on the Brexit deal.

Chuck Umunna MP arrives at a press conference at County Hall in Westminster, London

Sarah Wollaston was first elected as the MP for Totnes in 2010. Prior to coming into politics she worked for 24 years as an NHS doctor, and she has frequently criticised the Government's approach to the NHS.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "saddened" that the MPs had chosen to leave her party, but insisted the Tory party offered "decent, moderate and patriotic politics".

She said: “I am saddened by this decision – these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it.

 

"Of course, the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement both in our party and our country for a long time. Ending that membership after four decades was never going to be easy.

"But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a brighter future.

"I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve."