Natalie Elphicke: Tory MP defects to Labour with attack on Rishi Sunak

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Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke has defected to the Labour Party, saying the Tories “have become a byword for incompetence and division”.

In a statement released just as PMQs was starting, the MP for Dover said the key factors for her decision were housing and border security.

She accused Rishi Sunak of “broken promises” and abandoning key pledges.

It is the second defection to Labour for Rishi Sunak in less than two weeks, after Dan Poulter also quit the Tories.

Labour will retain their existing candidate in Dover and Deal at the next general election and Mrs Elphicke will stand down.

The constituency replaces Dover, where Mrs Elphicke had a majority of 12,278 at the last election, following boundary changes.

Conservative Transport Minister Huw Merriman said he was “absolutely staggered” by the defection and accused Mrs Elphicke of being “opportunistic”, while other Tory MPs said they were surprised as Mrs Elphicke had been on the right wing of their party.

In dramatic scenes, Prime Minister’s Questions began in the Commons with Mrs Elphicke crossing the floor to sit behind Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

There was bemusement and confusion from many on the Conservative benches.

The news has only been announced at midday and plenty of Tory MPs had not realised that their former colleague was now sitting opposite them – directly behind Sir Keir and so in the camera shot when he is talking – rather than on their side.

Sir Keir welcomed her to the party, asking Mr Sunak “what is the point of this failed government staggering on” when “the Tory MP for Dover on the front line of small boats crisis says the prime minister cannot be trusted with our borders and joins Labour”.

Dover is the arrival point for many people who cross the Channel in small boats.

In her statement, Mrs Elphicke said Mr Sunak’s government “is failing to keep our borders safe and secure”, with lives being lost in the Channel and small boat arrivals “at record levels”.

Last April, Mrs Elphicke wrote in an article for the Express that Labour had “no plan of their own to tackle illegal immigration” and described the government’s Rwanda plan as “world-leading”.

However, more recently she said she feared legislation aimed at reviving the plan would not stop small boat crossings, and suggested a returns agreement with France would be more effective.

Asked whether she had changed her mind on Labour’s immigration policies, Mrs Elphicke said Mr Sunak had not stopped small boat crossings and Labour would tackle this issue.

Both the MP and Labour insisted she had not been offered a peerage to defect but she will be given an unpaid Labour role advising the party on housing policy.

Multiple sources claim that Labour whips, who are responsible for enforcing discipline, expressed concerns about admitting Mrs Elphicke to the party, though Labour denied this.

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