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British Lawmaker On Why She Left Her Party For An Independent Group


British Prime Minister Theresa May appears to have delayed a vote on Brexit yet again. She said this weekend the vote may not happen until March 12. That is less than a month before the U.K.'s deadline to leave the European Union, ready or not.

Britain's two main parties have shown signs of cracking apart under the pressure. Three lawmakers have left the ruling Conservative Party, and nine members of Parliament have quit the opposition Labour Party. All but one of those defectors, 11 in all, have formed what they call the Independent Group. So what do they want?

Lawmaker Joan Ryan is one of those who defected from the Labour Party early last week, and she is with us now from the studios of the BBC. Welcome to the program.

JOAN RYAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why leave your party?

RYAN: For all of us who have left and joined the Independent Group, we believe we're facing the biggest national crisis our country has faced since the Second World War. And we believe that both the major parties are unable to solve the crisis. Now, within the Conservative Party, the MPs who have left that party say the European Research Group, which would happily leave the European Union with no deal - which would devastate our economy - they believe that they have control of the Conservative Party...

INSKEEP: Oh, the extreme Brexiteers, in a sense, have taken...

RYAN: ...Hard-right, extreme Brexiteers - and that Theresa May, our prime minister, is not able to stand up to them. For those of us who've left the Labour Party, we believe that the hard left have taken over our party, that our leadership is a part of kind of Stalinist politics, pro-Russian, pro-Putin and anti-the EU.

INSKEEP: Jeremy Corbyn is who you're talking about when you say hard left and Stalinist and everything else.

RYAN: I'm talking about Jeremy Corbyn. I'm talking about his closest allies and his leadership team. The party has been taken over by the hard left, many of whom were not in the party prior to two to three years ago, before Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. And he has undermined the founding principle on which Labour rests, which was equality. And that's evidenced through the fact that he has allowed the scourge of anti-Semitism to infect our party.

INSKEEP: I guess you - we should note that Jeremy Corbyn denies being an anti-Semite. But it seems like it's obvious to you from the various statements he's made, from his positions on Israel and Palestine and that sort of thing.

RYAN: Well, I don't know what's in his heart. But I do know that the Labour Party has become institutionally anti-Semitic, so bad that it has driven out, through abuse and bullying and aggression, a young Jewish woman who was a Labour MP, Luciana Berger, and other Jewish women. And I'm afraid Jeremy Corbyn - over the three years that this anti-Semitism has, you know, taken root in our party and changed the culture of our party, he has had endless opportunities to deal with it. And he's repeatedly and consistently refused to do so.

INSKEEP: So you have a serious problem with what you see as anti-Semitism in the party. But it seems that the essential thing that is driving this party split, of course, is Brexit. And that is the most desperately urgent situation that you face. And you have a matter of weeks now before the moment when Britain would leave the European Union with no deal at all. What is your political strategy?

RYAN: What we're based on at the moment is a set of values that draws us together in the center ground of politics, which has been abandoned by the two main parties. Our strategy is that what we want to see is - well, our analysis is that Parliament is not able to resolve this situation. And that's increasingly obvious. So our view is that this should go back to the people to vote on the deal that the prime minister, Theresa May, brings back. We are dismayed that, for the third time, she has postponed the vote.

INSKEEP: Do you want one of the options for people to be - stay in the European Union?

RYAN: Well, there's an amendment coming before Parliament. It's called the Kyle-Wilson Amendment. And what they want to do is say, we'll vote for Theresa May's deal as long as we get an amendment that it goes back to the people for ratification - not a neverendum (ph) - just ratification, which is another referendum in a way.

But if it's passed, then you get Theresa May's deal. If it isn't, we stay in the European Union.

INSKEEP: Ms. Ryan, thanks very much for the time. Really appreciate it.

RYAN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Joan Ryan is a member of Parliament and a member of the newly formed Independent Group in Britain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.