Theresa May meets Conservative waverers as she rejects defectors' complaints

21 February 2019, 18:51 | Updated: 21 February 2019, 20:09

Theresa May has met two further possible Tory defectors as she rejected the complaints of a trio of MPs who have already quit the Conservative Party.

The prime minister held talks with Justine Greening and Phillip Lee on Thursday - a day after their fellow Remainers Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Anna Soubry resigned as Tory MPs to join the new Independent Group in parliament.

Ms Greening and Dr Lee have both refused to rule out following the lead of their former colleagues - dubbed the "three amigos" - by leaving the Conservatives.

Former education secretary Ms Greening has indicated she would quit the party if the government backed a no-deal Brexit.

And Dr Lee - who quit as a justice minister last year over the prime minister's Brexit policy - recently told Sky News: "If the Conservative Party continues to move in a certain direction, it won't just be me considering my position."

In a letter to Ms Allen, Dr Wollaston and Ms Soubry on Thursday, the prime minister told the trio she was "saddened" by their resignations, but did not "accept the picture you paint" of the Conservative Party under her leadership.

She insisted the Tories' record in government "shows that we are the moderate, open-hearted Conservative Party in the One Nation tradition you speak of".

In their joint resignation letter, the trio claimed there has been a "shift to the right" in the Conservative Party with "blatant entryism" by a "purple momentum" - taken as a reference to former UKIP members joining the Tories.

They claimed this had seen a similar situation to how the "hard left" had been "allowed to consume and terminally undermine the Labour Party" under Jeremy Corbyn.

But, highlighting efforts to ensure new Conservative members share the "values and objectives" of the party, Mrs May wrote: "I was sorry to read, and do not accept, the parallel you draw with the way Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left have warped a once-proud Labour Party and allowed the poison of antisemitism to go unchecked.

"I am determined that under my leadership the Conservative Party will always offer the decent, moderate and patriotic politics that the people of this country deserve."

All three of the Conservative defectors support a second EU referendum, but Mrs May reminded them how it had been a pledge in the 2017 Tory manifesto - on which the trio stood - to deliver Brexit.

She added: "In my time in government and politics I have seen the consequences of people in power not giving a voice to those without one, or ignoring people when they speak.

"I believe we must not make that mistake by failing to deliver on the result of the referendum.

"I know that you disagree with equal passion and conviction and, like me, are motivated by what you consider to be right for the country."

Mrs May ended her letter by expressing a hope that she and the trio "can continue to work together on issues where we agree".

A number of other Conservative MPs, including cabinet ministers, have expressed their regret at the resignations of Ms Allen, Dr Wollaston and Ms Soubry, with some suggesting they would be welcomed back if they reversed their decisions.

However, Tory Brexiteer Nadine Dorries was less generous to her former colleagues as she demanded they trigger by-elections in their constituencies "with immediate effect".

She tweeted: "Not one of the three amigos holds a shred of principle between them and are now political takers and imposters."

Ms Dorries added: "Enough of people saying they would be welcome back- this is a lie and everyone knows it. Soubry called the PM a racist.

"Allen said she wants to destroy the party. They are fundamentalists/democracy deniers with incredibly inflated opinions of their own ability."

After her resignation, Ms Soubry used a TV interview to claim Mrs May has "got a problem with immigration".

Asked whether she would consider one day returning to the Conservatives, Ms Allen said: "I can't imagine it, not least because if we do our jobs right, there won't be a Tory party to go back to."