The Independents: MPs who left major parties set up new group to act as 'Switzerland' in parliament

10 July 2019, 14:05 | Updated: 10 July 2019, 16:05

A new group of independent MPs has been set up in parliament, intended to be a "welcoming home" for those thinking of defecting from the Conservatives or Labour.

Five backbenchers have set up the movement, called The Independents: Heidi Allen, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and John Woodcock.

Ms Allen was a Conservative MP who defected to join The Independent Group in February, before going on to become leader of it as the newly-branded Change UK.

She then quit, and told Sky News she had helped found The Independents to act as a "Switzerland in the centre of parliament".

"It can be quite lonely in parliament being an independent - so that gives us presentationally a small amount of organisation around us," the Cambridgeshire South MP said.

"It's not a party, but what it is - we're hoping - is a welcoming home.

"There is still volatility on both the Labour and the Tory sides, where MPs could potentially split away."

Ms Allen also used the move to announce a new "Unite to Remain" pact, which will try to persuade pro-EU parties not to stand against each other at the next election.

The thought of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage over their shoulders was "really focusing minds", Ms Allen said.

She added the alliance "has to be chaired by an independent, somebody without skin in the game" to avoid accusations of bias.

The Independents faced some ridicule on social media, including from a former aide to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

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James Mills, who served as his strategic adviser, said the group of "largely former Blairite Labour MPs" had used a similar logo to an "old Blairite think tank".

Another social media user asked: "Imagine being a Change UK splinter group. 1% of the vote was too much?"