Three Conservative MPs have resigned from the party to join eight former Labour MPs in the new Independent Group.
"The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe," Soubry said at a press conference on Wednesday.
She said most local Conservative Party associations had been infiltrated by anti-EU activists and urged more Tory MPs to join the Independent Group, which now has 11 members, more than the Liberal Democrats.
It is with a heavy heart I have today resigned from the Conservative Party. pic.twitter.com/wzPUB84w5Z— Anna Soubry MP (@Anna_Soubry) 20 February 2019
The latest Labour MP, Joan Ryan, quit on Tuesday night, complaining about anti-Semitism.
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.— Theresa May (@theresa_may) 20 February 2019
Tory Party 'In The Grip' of Brexit Extremists, Claim Trio
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the Tory defectors said the Conservative Party was "in the grip" of the European Research Group — which supports a hard Brexit — and the Democratic Unionist Party.
"Brexit has redefined the Conservative Party — undoing all the efforts to modernise it," they claimed.
"We find it unconscionable that a party, once trusted on the economy, more than any other, is now recklessly marching the country to the cliff edge of no deal," they wrote in the letter.
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.— Theresa May (@theresa_may) 20 February 2019
Mrs May responded with an uncharacteristic splurge of tweets in which she thanked the three MPs for their "dedicated service" but promised to delivering on the manifesto commitment to deliver Brexit and implement "the decision of the British people".
Soubry represents Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire, while Allen is MP for South Cambridgeshire and Wollaston's seat is Totnes in Devon. All are Tory strongholds and the Independent Group would be unlikely to win them in a general election.
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.— Theresa May (@theresa_may) 20 February 2019
In 1981 several MPs broke away from Labour and formed the SDP. On that occasion only one Conservative MP joined them, although Chris Grayling was among those who supported the SDP as an activist.
On Tuesday night, another Tory MP Sam Gyimah, who resigned as a minister over Brexit, denied he planned to join the Independent Group.
"I hugely admire Luciana Berger's brave stance against antisemitism. But, ultimately, this is a Labour Party matter and is nothing to do with me," he said.
I‘ve worked with @Anna_Soubry on numerous issues. She is a formidable parliamentarian and I have always been full of admiration for her. Her departure is undoubtedly a loss to the Party.— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) 20 February 2019
Whether his stance will change after Wednesday's move remains to be seen.
Two other Tory MPs highly critical of May's Brexit strategy — Nick Boles and Antoinette Sandbach — have previously ruled out quitting the party.
Good news so it must be in spite of Brexit. https://t.co/JoTMb52vOv— Jacob Rees-Mogg (@Jacob_Rees_Mogg) 19 February 2019
The Independent Group will vote as a bloc against a no-deal Brexit or a hard Brexit and will push for a second referendum and will be supported by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP but both Labour and the Conservatives say they are in favour of Brexit and will respect the will of those who voted in the 2016 referendum.