Tory and Labour MPs have held informal discussions about establishing a new political party in the event of Andrea Leadsom becoming prime minister and Jeremy Corbyn staying as Labour leader, a cabinet minister has disclosed.
Senior players in the parties have discussed founding a new centrist grouping in the mould of the Social Democratic party (SDP) should the two main parties polarise, according to the minister. Talks should be taken seriously, though they are still at an early stage, according to the source.
“There have been talks between Labour and Tory MPs about a new party,” the minister said. “A number of my colleagues would not feel comfortable in a party led by Andrea Leadsom.”
It is understood that MPs in both parties who campaigned to remain in the European Union believe there is an opportunity to build on the newly founded relationships between centrist MPs in both parties made before the EU referendum.
A Tory party source said Labour and Conservative MPs who campaigned in favour had become closer during the campaign and increasingly come to regard themselves as “a tribe”.
“Nothing will happen until the Tory leadership election, but people are talking about this in the tearooms [in parliament],” the source said.
A senior Labour party source confirmed that at least one Conservative minister and one of the shadow cabinet ministers who resigned last week had been involved in discussions about such a reshaping of British politics.
“There is a feeling that there might have to be a new party at the centre of British politics,” he said. “It’s early days, but the conversations are at a pretty high level.”
The suggestion comes as the Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams demands a central role for all pro-EU parties at Westminster in shaping the UK’s relationship with the EU. She warns that, without a cross-party consensus on the final deal, the country could fall apart in bitter post-Brexit division and acrimony.
Williams, who was one of the Labour “gang of four” who broke away from Labour in 1981 to form the SDP, says that Labour under Corbyn is in disarray and unable to provide effective opposition as the UK plans for Brexit – the biggest, most far-reaching challenge for the country and Europe in a generation.
In an article in the Observer that has strong echoes of an open letter she wrote to the Guardian 35 years ago, about the Labour party’s desperate plight after it voted to quit the European Community in 1981, she calls for all those on the pro-EU centre-left at Westminster to join forces with the SNP and pro-EU Tories to stamp their mark on any Brexit deal.
Their joint mission, she argues, must be to ensure that the 48.1% who voted to remain on 23 June have their share of input into the eventual deal after what was a knife-edge referendum result.
If there is not a willingness on both sides to compromise, she suggests the union with Scotland will be at an end and a rump UK will be left disunited and scarred.
Her comments reflect a growing view at Westminster that, following the 50.9% to 48.1% vote for Leave – after a campaign in which the Out camp made promises, many of which they now admit will be difficult to deliver – the views of those on the Remain side must be respected when the future of the country is determined.
Williams says the answer is for a cross-party committee to be established in parliament involving Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Greens and pro-EU Tories, which would have to approve any final deal negotiated on the UK’s future EU relationship.
She writes: “With Labour in such disarray, how do we ensure that our future, long-term relationship with the European Union truly reflects the range of disparate opinion in this country, in a way that will avoid the referendum result leaving an appalling legacy of division? Over the next two years the consequences of our departure from the EU will become clear and disturbing.
“Two things are crucial. First, we must see the committed involvement of those representing all sides of the debate in the UK in the renegotiation of our long-term relationship with the EU.
“That means, secondly, that all parties represented in parliament should take part in a monitoring committee to oversee the negotiations as they proceed.
“Parties that supported staying in the EU must be part of this committee, including Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens, as well as the pro-Remain element of the Conservative party.”
The impact of the decision to leave is only just dawning, Williams says, noting: “With every passing day, the problems confronting the new prime minister multiply.”
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