Up to 10 Conservative MPs could defect if new PM attempts no-deal Brexit, Heidi Allen says

Andrew Woodcock

As many as 10 Conservative MPs could defect to Change UK if Tories elect a hardline Brexiteer planning to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal, the breakaway party’s interim leader has said.

Heidi Allen told The Independent that the election of a figure like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab would be “serious wake-up time” for MPs who fear a no-deal Brexit.

With Tories currently eight seats short of a working majority in the House of Commons, the loss of even a handful of MPs could make it impossible for the new leader to form a functioning government, even with a continued deal with the Democratic Unionists.

Ms Allen – one of three MPs to quit the Conservatives over Brexit in February – said that with both Tories and Labour maybe set to be led by figures from their extreme wings, the political landscape was “shifting sand”, with a real possibility of realignment towards the centre.

“On the Tory side I know if Boris or Dominic Raab or a character of that Brexit persuasion is chosen, that's serious wake-up time for a lot of my colleagues on the Tory benches and they don't hide that,” she said.

With the leadership question undecided, no talks about defections are presently under way. But asked how many could potentially switch, she replied: “I'd say it was somewhere between half a dozen and 10.”

After a European election campaign in which her Remain-backing party is expected to have performed poorly, with polls regularly placing them below 5 per cent support, she did not rule out alliances and collaboration with like-minded MPs in other parties – or even ditching the Change UK name.

Describing the name as something that was “dreamt up in 24 hours” after the Electoral Commission barred the use of The Independent Group, she said: “Am I obsessed with Change UK being the name and the banner that goes forward? No – what I am obsessed with is good quality moderate centre-ground MPs finding a way to work together.”

Proposals for a joint Remain ticket in the European elections came to nothing, but Ms Allen said she “very much” hopes to explore options for cooperation with other centrists in the Commons, not only on the fight against Brexit, but also issues like health and welfare.

“I can’t describe it, I’m not sure what it will look like, but some kind of alliance, pact, collaborative coalition working? Yes, that’s absolutely my goal,” she said.

“Look at Europe – coalition politics is normal there, whether it’s formalised in parties working in pacts or it’s independents who come together over issues. I genuinely don’t have a set view on that. All I do know is that the old-fashioned clumpy big parties where you are almost brain-washed and robotic, that’s not how the modern world is.”

Resurgent Liberal Democrats are expected to have taken the bulk of Remain votes when the European ballots are counted on Sunday evening, with opinion polls suggesting they will outstrip Tories and could even overtake Labour for second place.

Deputy leader Jo Swinson said that the party was “in a very strong place” to build up its position as Sir Vince Cable hands over to a new leader, following local elections in which they picked up more than 700 seats.

And she made clear she was ready to work with other moderates to see off “a huge threat to liberal values” from intolerant nationalism.

It was “absolutely” the case that there are numbers of Tories uncomfortable with the idea of a leader committed to no-deal, she told The Independent.

“The question is whether or not they will stand up and be counted at some point,” she said. “I personally think they will, whether that is through defections or quitting the whip to sit as an independent.”

Home affairs spokesperson Sir Ed Davey – expected to be Ms Swinson’s main rival in the race to succeed Mr Cable – said there were “quite large numbers” inside and outside parliament unhappy with the choice between “a hard Brexit nationalistic right and a neo-Marxist Corbyn agenda”.

“If that remains the choice provided, no one will be surprised if there are people wanting to explore options,” he said. “Every Lib Dem will be up for exploring options, but what that actually means in terms of parties is a question for way down the line.”

He said: “Politics has never been so uncertain, so volatile, so difficult to read and nor has there been in my lifetime so much at stake.

“The next few weeks could see a new Tory prime minister trying to take us out of the EU without a deal. I think Lib Dems need to focus on stopping that and joining forces with Conservatives, Labour, Greens, SNP, whoever, to prevent that disaster for our country.”