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UK: Major setback for Rishi Sunak as Conservative MP defects, accuses party of 'incompetence'

Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover, is the second former Conservative MP to defect to Labour in the past two weeks after Dan Poulter's decision last month. This is a major blow to Sunak and the Conservatives as polls show the party losing to Labour in the upcoming general election.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee London Published on: May 09, 2024 7:29 IST
UK, british PM Rishi Sunak
Image Source : REUTERS British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

London: In a major setback for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Conservative MP defected to the opposition Labour, accusing the party of becoming a "byword for incompetence and division". Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover who was a staunch critic of the Labour Party, accused Sunak of "broken promises" and abandoning key pledges in her resignation statement on Wednesday.

This marks the second defection from the Conservations to Labour in two weeks and comes on the back of bruising local election results for the governing party. "When I was elected in 2019, the Conservative Party occupied the centre ground of British politics. The party was about building the future and making the most of the opportunities that lay ahead for our country,” Elphicke said in her letter.

"Since then, many things have changed. The elected prime minister was ousted in a coup led by the un-elected Rishi Sunak. Under Rishi Sunak, the Conservatives have become a byword for incompetence and division. The centre ground has been abandoned and key pledges of the 2019 manifesto have been ditched," she added, expressing support for Labour's policies.

"We need to move on from the broken promises of Rishi Sunak’s tired and chaotic government,” she declared, as the 43-year-old British Indian PM faced off against Labour Leader Keir Starmer. The opposition leader attacked Sunak over his handling of the migration crisis, saying,"What is the point of this failed government staggering on"

"If he thinks his own MPs joining the Labour Party are wrong if he thinks anyone believes any of the nonsense that he spouts, why doesn't he put it to the test and call a general election," questioned Starmer, in a series of stinging attacks during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs). Sunak chose to ignore the question, instead accusing his opponent of having "out of touch values" with the British people.

Labour faces criticism for admitting Elphicke

Elphicke is the second ex-Conservative MP to switch to Labour in the last two weeks after Dan Poulter, MP for North Ipswich. Poulter announced he was standing down as a parliamentarian at the end of April and switching to Labour as he could no longer defend the Tory government’s track record on the National Health Service (NHS). 

However, Elphicke's future plans remain unclear as reports indicate that Labour will retain its existing candidate in the newly carved Dover and Deal constituency at the next general election later this year. Furthermore, Starmer is facing anger for welcoming Elphicke as the latter has repeatedly attacked Labour over migration, according to the Guardian.

Labour MPs and shadow cabinet sources expressed reservations about her past comments and conduct. Labour sources said Starmer had met a hostile response over the defection at a gathering of the party’s parliamentary committee. They said he was challenged about Elphicke’s values and whether a rightwinger with her record should be welcome in the Labour party.

Nevertheless, Elphicke's defection has struck a major blow to the Conservatives as she had been a member of the right-wing European Research Group of Tory MPs and a vocal proponent for tougher right-wing politics. She was also known for her strident criticism of Labour policies, accusing them of wanting "open borders". 

Troubles mount for Conservatives

This came after Sunak's party suffered heavy blows in local and mayoral elections last week. While Labour politician Sadiq Khan's re-election as London mayor was widely expected, Labour also snatched a surprise, narrow victory in the central West Midlands region that is home to Britain's second-largest city of Birmingham. These Labour victories could fuel fresh calls for Sunak to step down.

Opinion polls predicted that Labour will win the next national election, propelling Keir Starmer to power and ending 14 years of Conservative government in Britain. Sunak has said he intends to call a vote in the second half of the year. The British Indian leader had been counting on getting an electoral boost from recent announcements on defence spending and the progress of his divisive plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Sunak became prime minister in October 2022 after the short-lived tenure of his predecessor, Liz Truss, who left office after 49 days following a budget of unfunded tax cuts that roiled financial markets and sent borrowing costs for homeowners surging. The PM has struggled to restore his party's sinking popularity despite recasting himself at various points over the past year as a bold reformer.

(with inputs from agencies)

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