Conservative MPs including Meriden's Dame Caroline Spelman are being "hounded and pilloried" by extremists who have "infiltrated" the Tory party, according to Anna Soubry.

Ms Soubry is one of three former Conservatives who resigned from the party to join The Independent Group.

She said the majority of local Conservative associations "are being infiltrated by a nationally-orchestrated entryism".

And she said one of the victims was former Conservative chair, Dame Caroline Spelman, MP for Meriden.

After the press conference, Dame Caroline said this was untrue. Asked if the account given by Ms Soubry was correct, she said: "No".

Ms Soubry said the MPs were being "hounded and they are being pilloried" because they supported Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Former Tories Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston have written to Prime Minister and Conservative leader Theresa May to say they are leaving the party.

Anna Soubry

They've joined forces with the eight ex-Labour MPs who have formed a new centre-ground Independent Group in the House of Commons, which could eventually become a new political party.

The former Labour MPs are are Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Anne Coffey, Joan Ryan and Angela Smith.

Ms Soubry urged "fellow one nation Conservatives" and "like-minded Lib Dems" to "please, come and join us" in breaking away from their parties.

Ex-Tory MPs explain why they quit the Conservatives

At a press conference, Anna Soubry said that the battle for the Conservative Party was "over" and the hard-right Brexit extremists had won.

"As my friend - and he is my friend - Chuka Umunna said on Monday, you don't join a political party to fight it and you don't stay in it and skirmish on the margins when the truth is the battle is over and the other side has won," she said.

"The right wing, the hardline anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe. They are the Conservative Party.

 

"Dear friends and now former colleagues who share those one-nation values and principles will of course today deny it, but I believe in their heads and in their hearts they know it's over.

"And the reason they know it's over is because we lost the referendum and Brexit now defines and shapes the Conservative Party."

Labour MPs (left to right) Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker and Chuka Umunna after they announced their resignations during a press conference at County Hall in Westminster, to create a new Independent Group in the House of Commons.

Sarah Wollaston said she felt "great sadness" at quitting the Conservative Party.

"I am afraid the Prime Minister simply hasn't delivered on the pledge she made on the steps of Downing Street to tackle the burning injustices in our society," she said.

"I think that what we now see is the party, that was once the most trusted on the economy and business, is now marching us to the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit."

 

Explaining her decision to quit the Conservatives, Heidi Allen blamed Brexit and the Tory approach to welfare reforms.

Ms Allen, a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said:" I can no longer represent a government and a party who can't open their eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable in society, suffering which we have deepened whilst having the power to fix."