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'Enough is enough': Seven MPs quit UK Labour over Brexit row

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The decision of seven MPs to quit Britain's Labour Party in disagreement over leader Jeremy Corbyn's stance on Brexit has added to the political turmoil.

Seven Labour MPs have quit over leader Jeremy Corbyn's approach to Brexit and a row over anti-Semitism, saying Britain's main opposition party had been "hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left".

In a direct challenge to Corbyn, the seven centrist MPs said they were courting others from across parliament to join their group, saying "enough is enough" in keeping silent over their doubts about the Labour leader's fitness for office.

United by a desire for a second referendum on Britain's decision to leave the European Union, they acknowledged that their resignations would not change the arithmetic in parliament, where there is as yet no majority for such a vote.

The resignation of seven MPs has put the spotlight on the British Labour Party's approach to Brexit.
The resignation of seven MPs has put the spotlight on the British Labour Party's approach to Brexit.
AAP

But their move underlines the increasing frustration within Labour over Corbyn's reluctance to change his Brexit strategy - the leftist leader and long-time critic of the EU has stuck to his preference for a new election or his plan to leave the bloc.

With only 39 days until Britain leaves the EU, divisions over Brexit have fragmented British politics, breaking down traditional party lines and creating new ad hoc coalitions.

"The Labour Party we joined that we campaigned for and believed in is no longer today's Labour Party ... it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left," MP Chris Leslie told a news conference on Monday.

"Evidence of Labour's betrayal on Europe is now visible for all to see. Offering to actually enable this government's Brexit - constantly holding back from allowing the public a final say."

The seven MPs are Leslie, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey. They will continue to sit as members of parliament under the banner "The Independent Group".

Corbyn expressed his disappointment that the group had left, referring in a statement to "Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election" when the opposition party saw its biggest increase in vote share since 1945 to win 262 seats.

His finance policy chief, John McDonnell, called on the MPs to "stand down" and try to win back their seat in parliament. The local branch for Labour in Umunna's constituency asked him to call a so-called by-election.

But the party's deputy leader, Tom Watson, described the resignations as a "wake-up call", saying "unless we change we may see more days like this" - a guarded suggestion that Corbyn and his team had taken Labour too far to the left.

Britain's 2016 EU referendum, when 52 per cent voted to leave versus 48 to remain, has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.

Eurosceptics in Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party flexed their muscle by voting against her government in a symbolic Brexit ballot last week though have so far given little sign of formally breaking away.

But MPs in the new Labour independent grouping may hope to tempt away some pro-EU members of the governing party.

"We believe that the entire political system is now broken ... We've had enough evidence to suggest that people out there will come forward, register their support and help us... build a new political movement," Angela Smith said.

Corbyn has so far stuck to Labour policy to keep the option of a second referendum "on the table" if May's government fails to secure a deal with Brussels that can break an impasse in parliament, preferring a new election or his own proposed deal.

Some accused Corbyn of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in the party, an allegation that has dogged the Labour chief, a supporter of Palestinian rights and critic of the Israeli government, since he took over the party in 2015. Corbyn denies the allegation, saying he is stamping anti-Semitism out.

Berger, a Jewish MP who has faced abuse, said the party had become "institutionally anti-Semitic".

For others, Corbyn was just not up to the demands of his office, they said. Mike Gapes said it was now a question of MPs' moral integrity whether to stay in Labour.

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