Ian Austin has quit the Labour Party, becoming the ninth MP to do so this week.
In an exclusive interview with his local paper the Express & Star, the MP for Dudley North said the “hard left” had taken over and claimed there was a “culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance” in the Labour Party.
“The hard truth is that the party is tougher on the people complaining about antisemitism than it is on the antisemites,” Austin said.
I have decided to leave the Labour Party and I wanted to tell people in Dudley first. https://t.co/IaXSwDry06
— Ian Austin (@IanAustinMP) February 22, 2019
The MP has represented his Leave-voting West Midlands seat since 2005, but his majority has dropped and now stands at just 22 votes – one of the smallest in the country.
Although Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and other Labour figures have called on them to trigger by-elections, those who quit the party earlier this week said they would not be standing down as MPs.
Austin has indicated that he will also refuse to fight a by-election, saying: “I will be an independent MP but I will be working just as hard to stand up for our area.”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We regret that Ian Austin has left the Labour Party. He was elected as a Labour MP and so the democratic thing is to resign his seat and let the people of Dudley decide who should represent them.”
So far, all members of the new Independent Group are anti-Brexit and campaigners for a fresh referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
Having voted in favour of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Austin says he has no plans to join the group in parliament, which is made up of three former Tories and eight ex-Labour MPs.
Last year, the backbench MP faced possible disciplinary action over his reaction to Labour’s handling of antisemitism as he allegedly used abusive language towards party chair Ian Lavery. He was reprimanded by the Chief Whip and issued with a warning.
“It is wrong that Luciana Berger has been bullied out of the Labour Party by antisemites. It is wrong that the party threatened Margaret Hodge when she spoke out on anti-Semitism, like they threatened me when I raised the issue with the party chairman,” Austin wrote in the Express & Star.
Hodge, who also faced a disciplinary probe amid the antisemitism row last year, is rumoured to be one of the next Labour MPs quit the party.
Deputy leader Tom Watson has said he is “deeply saddened” by Austin leaving, describing him as “one of the hardest working MPs”. The frontbencher added: “There is no point denying that his departure is a serious blow to my party.”
Very sad to lose another colleague from the Labour team. It’s also personally hard to see a close friend take a decision of this magnitude. https://t.co/Q2whZXcuJx
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) February 22, 2019