Sarah Wollaston: Ex-Conservative MP Joins Liberal Democrats

Sarah Wollaston chairs the Commons health select committee

Her move brings the number of MPs representing parliament’s fourth-biggest party up to 14, following swiftly on from the recent election of Janet Dodds in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

Dr Wollaston, chairwoman of the influential Commons health select committee and a supporter of a second EU referendum, said she was “delighted” to be joining a “fantastic team” which was “unequivocally making the case for us to remain at the heart of Europe”.

The 11 Independent Group MPs
Wollaston was among the MPs who joined The Independent Group in February

However, she ruled out holding a by-election in her Totnes constituency, despite having once supported a proposed law that would have seen MPs who switch parties trigger an automatic by-election.

Dr Wollaston told Sky News: “At the moment, if I were to call a by-election, all that would happen would be that we would effectively be increasing the government’s majority over a period of a constitutional crisis.

“That’s not the right thing to do. Boris Johnson can have an election in Totnes, I would welcome that, by calling a general election.

“That’s the right way forward, either through a general election or through him putting his final [Brexit] deal to the people.”

Dr Wollaston previously backed Brexit before switching her support to Remain ahead of the 2016 EU referendum.

Welcoming Dr Wollaston to her party, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said the pair had “worked together for many months to fight to stop Brexit”.

She added the party was “growing” and was the “strongest” option for Remainers.

Dr Wollaston had defected with two other Tories, Heidi Allen and Anna Soubry, to The Independent Group in February.

At the time, she used her speech to attack then prime minister Theresa May for failing to tackle the “burning injustices” promised in her first address on the steps of Number 10.

“If I wouldn’t encourage others to vote Conservative in a general election, then how can I possibly continue with the Conservative whip?” Dr Wollaston asked.

Months later, after the rebranded group Change UK failed to break through at the European Parliament elections, she and five other MPs quit to become independents.

In a joint statement, they said doing so would make them “best placed to work cross-party and respond flexibly”.

Jane Dodds wins the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election for the Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds MP: ‘No time for tribalism’

The Lib Dems have already poached one of the group – the former Labour MP Chuka Umunna.

All those who resigned their respective party whips have been challenged over the months to call by-elections and re-stand on their new platforms, a move they have resisted.

Author: Aubrey Allegretti

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