One of the two London MPs who’ve been ousted as Conservatives by Boris Johnson for supporting moves in parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit has said he might seek to defend his seat by standing as an Independent at the next general election.
Stephen Hammond, who has been Tory MP for Wimbledon since the general election of 2005, has told BBC London he is considering the option, which could damage the chances of his successor as the seat’s Conservative candidate of winning it by attracting part of the local Tory vote.
Labour finished second in the South London constituency in 2017, 5,622 votes behind and increasing their vote share by 9.5 per cent compared with 2015. The Liberal Democrats, who took a respectable 14.5 per cent of the vote two years ago, also hope to be competitive in Wimbledon, which is a strongly Remain area in a borough, Merton, where the Lib Dems won the largest vote share at this year’s European elections. A Lib Dem gain from Labour in a Merton Council by-election in a Wimbledon ward in June was at Labour’s expense and also saw a fall in support for the Tories.
Speaking to BBC London’s political correspondent Karl Mercer, Hammond, who has been a Conservative Party member for 36 years, said having the Conservative whip withdrawn feels “deeply odd, deeply strange and really quite unfair” when, having voted to abide by the 2016 referendum result despite campaigning to remain in the EU, he now sees “people who’ve voted against the party numerous times, voted to bring down a Conservative Prime Minister [Theresa May] by not voting for the Withdrawal Agreement, now sitting on the front bench”. He said campaigning as an Independent “would be the most extraordinary emotion”.
In a letter to constituents, Hammond wrote, “During my election campaign in 2017 I promised that I would do everything in my power to avoid ‘no deal’ and a ‘hard Brexit'” adding that he had also “promised to fulfil the result of the referendum, and I did that by voting for the Withdrawal Agreement”. Refuting claims that his actions have made a government led by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn more likely, Hammond explained that in his view “the disruption caused by No Deal is what would make a Corbyn government more likely” and that this would be “a national disaster” on a par with No Deal, however long the Labour was in Downing Street.
The other erstwhile London Tory MP to lose the whip, former eduction, transport and international development secretary Justine Greening who represents marginal Putney, told her constituents in a letter that “like many people locally, I am deeply concerned by the Brexit approach taken by your government” and that “whoever is next elected to represent our constituency, which voted over 70% Remain, they will similarly need to put our community views on Brexit first, ahead of any conflicting party interest”.
Greening held her seat in 2017 by only 1,554 votes against a big swing to Labour. She was first elected there in 2005 and campaigned with Boris Johnson against plans to expand Heathrow airport, a major local issue. She resigned as education secretary in January 2018, and subsequently argued for a second EU referendum. She has said she will quit as an MP when the next general election comes.
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