Sadiq Khan has described the resignation of seven MPs from the Labour Party as “desperately sad” – but says a split will only lead to a continued Tory government.
This week seven MPs – Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey – resigned from the Labour Party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism.
Mr Khan said: “This is a desperately sad day. These seven MPs are all friends of mine. I served alongside them in Parliament.
“I agree that the only way through the mess of Brexit is to give the public the final say, and that the Labour Party needs to do much more to root out the evil of anti-Semitism.
“However, history clearly shows that the only way to get real change in our society – whether fighting for a public vote, tackling inequality, or ending austerity – is within the Labour Party.
“When the Labour Party splits it only leads to one outcome – a Tory government – and that means a hard Tory Brexit.”
The MPs who resigned will not be launching a new political party but sitting in Parliament as the Independent Group.
Keith Prince, Conservative London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge, spoke out on the resignation of Mr Gapes. Mr Gapes has represented Ilford South since 1993 but says he is “sickened” that Labour is perceived as a “racist party”.
Mr Prince said: “Congratulations to Mike Gapes for leaving Corbyn’s Labour Party. I disagree with Mike on a number of issues, but I’ve always had the utmost respect for his political integrity.
“It will be interesting to see how many other Labour politicians have the same level of integrity.”
Labour leader Mr Corbyn said the split came at a time when the opposition should be showing unity.
He said: “I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945.
“Labour won people over on a programme for the many not the few – redistributing wealth and power, taking vital resources into public ownership, investing in every region and nation, and tackling climate change.
“The Conservative government is bungling Brexit, while Labour has set out a unifying and credible alternative plan.
“When millions are facing the misery of Universal Credit, rising crime, homelessness and poverty, now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all.”
Unmesh Desai, Labour representative for the City & East in the London Assembly (inset), said the ramifications of the split will be felt most in the Square Mile with 29 March and Brexit looming large on the horizon.
He said: “It is always sad to see colleagues going and I regret the decision of the seven Labour MPs to resign from the party, no matter how strongly they feel about certain issues now well aired in the media.
“This is ultimately their decision but one which has ramifications for all of us, not least City residents and workers.”
He went on to state that the reasonable course of action now is for the group to resign from Parliament completely.
“They were elected under a Labour banner and should now resign and seek to get re-elected under their new clothes if one is to have any faith in civic processes,” he explained.
“City residents and workers looking for an alternative – and the very close 2017 parliamentary result in the constituency testifies to this – to the present government’s shambolic handling of Brexit and the hardships of an austerity agenda seen in the housing crisis, cuts to welfare, a creaking transport system and soaring crime rates will have every right to feel let down by the action of the seven.
“With a no-deal Brexit scenario – which will cause immense harm to the country and the City – only over a month away, you would have thought the minds of parliamentarians would be fixed on getting a deal which secures jobs and the economy.”