Tory MP Christian Wakeford defects to Labour and brands PM 'disgraceful'

19 January 2022, 11:51 | Updated: 19 January 2022, 23:36

Christian Wakeford has defected from the Tories to Labour.
Christian Wakeford has defected from the Tories to Labour. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Boris Johnson has been hit by the defection of Red Wall MP Christian Wakeford to Labour minutes before the beleaguered Prime Minister stood up in Parliament for PMQs.

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Former Tory MP Mr Wakeford branded the PM "disgraceful" as he announced his decision in the Bury Times and sent a letter to Mr Johnson explaining why he had lost patience with his leadership.

In the letter, Mr Wakeford told Boris Johnson that "you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves".

And speaking to LBC's political editor Theo Usherwood, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed his newest MP.

Mr Wakeford said: "I care passionately about the people of Bury South and I have concluded that the policies of the Conservative government that you lead are doing nothing to help the people of my constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.

"Britain needs a government focused on tackling the cost of living crisis and providing a path out of the pandemic that protects living standards and defends the security of all.

"It needs a government that upholds the highest standards of integrity and probity in public life and sadly both you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves."

The revelation came just minutes before a session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), with the timing calculated to cause maximum damage to Mr Johnson.

However, the PM insisted that the Conservatives will instead "win again in Bury South" at the next election.

Mr Wakeford won the seat - which had elected a Labour MP at every election since 1997 - in 2019.

Read more: Boris hit by MP defection as he begins fight for job at PMQs

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Mr Wakeford's deflection has triggered calls for a by-election - especially given that in 2020 he supported a backbench bill that called for any MP who switches parties to face a recall petition.

But, when asked, the Prime Minister's press secretary said the decision of whether to have a by-election would be down to Mr Wakeford's constituents.

Mr Wakeford himself said: "I think it was quite clear that even the Prime Minister wasn't calling for a by-election today, and I think it's been quite clear that they know they'd lose."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed Mr Wakeford, saying: "The policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse."

He added in a statement: "I'm determined to build a new Britain which guarantees security, prosperity and respect for all, and I'm delighted that Christian has decided to join us in this endeavour."

He told LBC: "It is a very important move because Christian has not only lost confidence in the Conservative Party but he has confidence in the Labour Party. He's got faith in the Labour Party as capable of forming a Government that the public can have confidence in.

He said Mr Wakeford's values align with Labour's and added: "He cares about his constituents and he’s done this because he can see that his constituents are being let down by this government so for him this is very very much driven by what he thinks is right by his constituents."

Sir Keir also began PMQs by "warmly welcoming" Mr Wakeford to his new party.

He was cheered by Labour MPs as he arrived in the Chamber and sat behind the leader for the Commons showdown with Mr Johnson.

In an attempt to defend the sudden defection, Mr Johnson said: "As for Bury South, let me say to him, the Conservative Party won Bury South for the first time in a generation under this Prime Minister on an agenda of of uniting and levelling up and delivering for the people of Bury South.

"We will win again in Bury South."

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said Mr Wakeford "has yet to realise that the Union Jack mask he is wearing to cross the floor to Labour, is not welcome on that side of the house".

Read more: Boris 'deserves the benefit of the doubt' over partygate scandal, minister insists

Mr Wakeford was seated behind Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons
Mr Wakeford was seated behind Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons. Picture: Alamy

Mr Wakeford had been one of seven Tory MPs to publicly call for Mr Johnson to quit amid the ongoing partygate scandal.

It came after Mr Johnson issued a humiliating apology during PMQs last week, having confessed to attending a No10 gathering in May 2020.

He later claimed on Tuesday that nobody told him holding a gathering was against the rules in a car-crash interview, despite him being the arbiter of England's Covid-19 rules.

As a result, a growing number of rebels are gearing up for a bid to oust Mr Johnson from his premiership.

A group of more than 20 Tory MPs elected in 2019 – many representing formerly Labour "red wall" constituencies like Mr Wakeford's Bury South – reportedly met in a gathering dubbed the "pork pie plot".

One of the options discussed was a collective submission of letters of no confidence on Wednesday.

With 54 needed to trigger a leadership vote, and an unknown number already having been submitted, such an agreement could push the number towards or even past the threshold.

However, there are suggestions some MPs may await the outcome of civil servant Sue Gray's report on the series of party allegations before submitting their letters, with the findings expected as early as this week.