Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston announced they were teaming up with eight Labour MPs who left Jeremy Corbyn’s party earlier this week to form The Independent Group. Their walkouts were sparked after they came under threat of deselection by eurosceptic local party members. With the threat of more defections looming, members of the Cabinet have urged the Prime Minister to condemn moves to deselect Remain MPs.
And she has been warned of the “perception” among pro-EU Tories that she was pandering to Brexiteer backbenchers, The Times reported.
It comes after the three defectors hit out at Mrs May, accusing her of bowing to demands from the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory Brexiteers.
In a letter, they said: “We no longer feel we can remain in the party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP.
“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it.
“There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hardline ERG which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy.”
The three added: “The final straw for us has been this Government’s disastrous handling of Brexit.”
At a press conference hours later, they called on “fellow one nation Conservatives” to join them in walking out of the party.
The three accused Mrs May of abandoning David Cameron’s modernising agenda and allowing right-wing Brexiteer hardliners to take over the party.
Ms Soubry said: “The right wing, the hardline anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe. They are the Conservative Party.”
And she insisted a “purple Momentum” of hard-right “zealots” were trying to force out Remain MPs through deselections.
Ms Allen later claimed in an appearance on ITV’s Peston that about 100 of her former Conservative colleagues feel the same way.
And speaking today, Dr Woolaston told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a third of the Cabinet would walk out if Mrs May steers the country towards a no-deal Brexit.