Local politicians say they will continue to work with South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen after she revealed her departure from the Conservative party to join a new anti-brexit Independent Group.
Today (February 20), Mrs Allen was one of a group of Conservative MPs to announce she is leaving the party.
In a statement, Mrs Allen, along with fellow Conservatives Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, 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.”
Mrs Allen has long been a strong and sometimes critical voice among the Conservatives, and has been outspoken about her stance on Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis, and universal credit. She was first elected as MP for South Cambridgeshire in the 2015 general election, replacing Conservative Andrew Lansley, who had held the seat previously. She was re-elected in the 2017 snap election.
She has been widely praised for “brave” speeches on universal credit. In 2018, she made headlines while, during a debate on abortion laws in Northern Ireland, she gave an impassioned speech, saying she herself had had an abortion for health reasons.
Now, expressing fears her party has shifted too far to the right, Mrs Allen has joined the breakaway Independent Group which formed this week when Labour’s Chuka Umunna, along with six other Labour MPs, quit Labour over its stance on Brexit and anti-Semitism issues within the party.
Peter Topping, leader of the Conservatives in South Cambridgeshire, said he respects Mrs Allen’s “personal decision” to quit the party.
He said: “Heidi Allen has been a very hard working MP for South Cambridgeshire.
“While I respect her personal decision – and it cannot have been easy – I’m disappointed because I’ve personally found the Conservatives to be a broad church.
“As local Conservative councillors we have in the past – and we will in the future – work with our MP for the benefit of our residents – as long as she continues as MP.
“I know that raises a myriad of questions but those are for the Conservative Association. I’m focussing this week on the budget for South Cambs being put forward by the Lib Dems which I fear is very risky.”
Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, welcomed Mrs Allen’s choice and said stopping Brexit was the most important thing for many people in South Cambridgeshire.
Cllr Smith said: “We welcome Heidi’s decision to leave a party with which she has seemed increasingly uncomfortable.
“South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats will continue to work with Heidi on issues where we agree. It’s what the public expect and they are rightly frustrated when politicians put their party ahead of the national interest.
“What is of the utmost importance right now is that we continue to work to prevent Britain falling out of the EU at huge cost to our economy, to our NHS, to British and EU citizens and the most vulnerable in society.”
Ian Sollom, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, said, “The people of South Cambridgeshire can already see the problems that Brexit is causing at Addenbrooke’s and they understandably want to prevent damage to our world leading bio-tech, high-tech and other industries and to our world-renowned university.
“I am committed to working collaboratively with groups and individuals that share the aims of the Lib Dems, especially when it comes to Brexit.
“The public overwhelmingly think the government has handled Brexit badly and do not trust politicians to take the right decision. We must give the British public the final say over the deal with the option of staying in the EU.”
James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority blasted Mrs Allen’s “foolish” decision to leave the Conservatives, saying there should be a by-election in South Cambridgeshire.
Mr Palmer said: “It’s regrettable that Heidi Allen has felt it necessary to resign from the Conservative Party and join the new Independent Group of MPs.
“I believe this to have been a foolish decision. The Conservative Party is a broad church and it’s right and proper that if the Conservative Party wants to remain the Party of Government this remains the case. It needs to be a Party where a range of different opinions are held and where healthy debate is encouraged.
“Heidi was elected as a Conservative MP and stood on a Conservative manifesto which had at its heart fully respected the referendum result. I expect that Heidi believes she can get elected as an Independent Group MP, I therefore encourage her to put this to the test and to trigger a by-election. The people of South Cambridgeshire decided at the last election that they wanted a Conservative MP. They should now be given the opportunity to decide whether or not they want an Independent Group MP.”
Mr Palmer said he disagreed with the idea the Conservatives were being drawn to the right over Brexit.
“I do not recognise the “purple momentum” referred to in the resignation letter,” said Mr Palmer. “I know all the Conservative associations of the county well and can confirm that they remain moderate broad churches where all are welcomed who subscribe to core Conservative values and principles.
“I hope Heidi enjoys her day in the limelight. In the meantime, South Cambridgeshire Conservatives need to unite and focus on ensuring that the next MP for South Cambridgeshire is a Conservative MP. I am one hundred per cent with them in this endeavour.”