Former Conservative MP Heidi Allen has been unveiled as the latest recruit to the Liberal Democrats, declaring that at least 20 more “One Nation” Tories would like to follow suit.

Ms Allen told The Independent the Tory Party no longer offered a home for MPs from its centrist tradition, though she admitted she did not know if any would have the “bravery” to jump ship.

Boris Johnson’s leadership was doing “irreparable” damage to the party, turning it into a “Ukip or Brexit Party Mk II” dominated by the “bullying” voices of the hard-right Eurosceptic fringe, she said. 

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“The party I joined doesn’t exist any more,” she added. 

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson hailed the South Cambridgeshire MP’s move as “fantastic” news and said she was “hopeful” that more pro-Europeans from other parties would come in her wake.

Shape Created with Sketch.
UK news in pictures

Shape Created with Sketch.
UK news in pictures

1/50 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

2/50 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

3/50 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

4/50 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

5/50 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

6/50 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

7/50 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

8/50 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

9/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

10/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

11/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

12/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

13/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

14/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

15/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

16/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

17/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

18/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

19/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

20/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

21/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

22/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

23/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

25/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

26/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

27/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

28/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

29/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

30/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

31/50 7 September 2019

Manchester City celebrate after Caroline Weir scored during their Women’s Super League match against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium. The WSL attendance record was smashed with 31,213 people watching the first Manchester derby of Women’s Super League era – nearly six times the previous WSL record

32/50 6 September 2019

A bull bumps into a plain clothes police officer (left) while being walked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Darnford Farm in Banchory near Aberdeen. It coincided with the publication of Lord Bew’s review and an announcement of extra funding for Scottish farmers

33/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

34/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

35/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

36/50 2 September 2019

Set building begins on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh ahead of filming for Fast and Furious 9

37/50 1 September 2019

Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

39/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

40/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

41/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

42/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

43/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

44/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

45/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

46/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

47/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

48/50 21 August 2019

Festival goers walk along the towpath of the River Thames as they arrive for the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue

49/50 20 August 2019

Police officers gather to pay their respects at the scene near Ufton Lane, where Thames Valley Police officer PC Andrew Harper, 28, died on Thursday. Jed Foster, 20, has appeared at Reading Magristrates’ Court where denied any involvement with the murder

50/50 19 August 2019

A fire that broke out at the site of Village Bakery on Coed Aben Road, Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wales

1/50 7 October 2019

Final preparations are made in front of a reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, ahead of the opening of for the ‘Michelangelo: A Different View’ exhibition at Hull Minister

2/50 6 October 2019

A car drives through a flooded street in Whitley Bay in Northumberland

3/50 5 October 2019

Thousands took to the streets of Edinburgh today to march in support of a second Scottish independence referendum

4/50 4 October 2019

A 12ft sculpture of a gorilla, entitled ‘Gorilla Apocalypse’, created by Luke Kite entirely from scrap car bumpers and panels discarded in the last decade is on display at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire

5/50 3 October 2019

Police stands in front of the Treasury building during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London

6/50 2 October 2019

Ex-Thomas Cook employees demonstrate in London after delivering a petition calling for a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and for the company’s directors to pay back their bonuses

7/50 1 October 2019

A road in Alum Rock, Birmingham is flooded after persistent heavy rain

8/50 30 September 2019

Two tourists pose for pictures in front of Union and EU flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London

9/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

10/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

11/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

12/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

13/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

14/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

15/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

16/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

17/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

18/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

19/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

20/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

21/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

22/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

23/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

25/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

26/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

27/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

28/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

29/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

30/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

31/50 7 September 2019

Manchester City celebrate after Caroline Weir scored during their Women’s Super League match against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium. The WSL attendance record was smashed with 31,213 people watching the first Manchester derby of Women’s Super League era – nearly six times the previous WSL record

32/50 6 September 2019

A bull bumps into a plain clothes police officer (left) while being walked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Darnford Farm in Banchory near Aberdeen. It coincided with the publication of Lord Bew’s review and an announcement of extra funding for Scottish farmers

33/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

34/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

35/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

36/50 2 September 2019

Set building begins on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh ahead of filming for Fast and Furious 9

37/50 1 September 2019

Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

39/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

40/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

41/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

42/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

43/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

44/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

45/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

46/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

47/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

48/50 21 August 2019

Festival goers walk along the towpath of the River Thames as they arrive for the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue

49/50 20 August 2019

Police officers gather to pay their respects at the scene near Ufton Lane, where Thames Valley Police officer PC Andrew Harper, 28, died on Thursday. Jed Foster, 20, has appeared at Reading Magristrates’ Court where denied any involvement with the murder

50/50 19 August 2019

A fire that broke out at the site of Village Bakery on Coed Aben Road, Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wales

In recent weeks, the party has seen its ranks swollen by the arrival of ex-Tories Sarah Wollaston, Sam Gyimah and Phillip Lee as well as Chuka Umunna, Angela Smith and Luciana Berger, previously of Labour. Ms Allen’s arrival brings the Lib Dem tally in the Commons to 19.

Ms Swinson said she was “in discussions” with potential switchers and “always hopeful of further defections”, but declined to say whether new recruits were in the pipeline.

And Ms Allen, who has been sitting as an independent since quitting Change UK in June, said she was “absolutely” in touch with serving Tory MPs who shared her concerns over the direction the party was taking under Mr Johnson.

“I’m not saying everybody should casually resign the whip, but for me it was the right thing and I know that in other MPs’ hearts they know it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “There has got to be at least 20.”

Asked if she expected any to follow her, she replied: “I couldn’t say for sure that any will. I’d like to say yes, but one of the things that’s disappointed me most since I became an MP is the lack of bravery that there is.”

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And Ms Allen revealed that she was considering an eventual move to the Lib Dems even while she was leader of Change UK during its disastrous European election campaign, when she clashed with Anna Soubry over her suggestion supporters should vote tactically for other anti-Brexit parties.

“I was talking about an alignment in the centre ground from the very beginning,” she said. “It was a question for me of whether having a holding position as an independent group would make it easier for other MPs to jump, but in the end not many did.”

Ms Allen said she held off her move to the Lib Dems until the Unite to Remain movement  – which she formed to promote pro-EU electoral pacts at the coming election – was securely established.

She vowed she would “absolutely” contest the seat she has held since 2015 in the election – telling The Independent: “I wouldn’t stand anywhere else,” – and insisted she was hopeful of overturning a towering Tory majority of almost 16,000 from 2017.

Jo Swinson stands with her latest recruit on Monday (Lucy Young)

“The constituency is probably close to 70 per cent Remain, and from the moment I left the Conservatives I have literally had thousands of emails from constituents and people coming up to me in the street saying they are grateful I had put the national interest first,” she said.

She insisted that she would not stand down to spark a by-election, pointing out that she used her own literature in the 2017 poll rather than the pro-Brexit material put out by Tory central office.

And she said there were “dozens” of traditional Tory heartland constituencies like hers which are now vulnerable to Lib Dems because their voters are turned off by the narrow Eurosceptic views of the Johnson administration.

Naming Winchester and Guildford, as well as some of the seats of the 21 no-deal rebels who have been barred from standing for the Tories at the election, Ms Allen said: “There are an awful lot of places where compassionate, moderate, centre-ground, progressive voters have previously backed the Conservatives.

“The Tory Party has completely turned its back on those voters and there is a real chance – with the Lib Dems offering that kind of politics – those seats could be lost to them.

“The most terrifying thing to me is that Boris Johnson seems to care not one jot about those voters or the MPs who have been loyal to him. His approach is to attack the Labour heartlands instead. But you win elections on the centre ground.”

Heidi Allen served as Change UK leader during the European elections (AFP/Getty)

Ms Allen was marked out as an independent voice on the Tories’ centrist wing from her maiden speech in the Commons, when she was critical of the party’s approach to welfare – something she admits “probably limited my opportunities for promotion”.

A former entrepreneur, who put her business on hold to enter politics, said she was attracted by the compassionate and pro-business agenda pursued by the coalition government under David Cameron.

“The Conservative Party since then has changed beyond recognition,” she said.

“I don’t see that I have changed at all, it is the party that has changed irreparably. The party that I joined doesn’t exist any more. It is self-imploding, it is turning into the new Brexit Party.”

And she said it was a “very, very risky” question whether the Conservative Party would even survive its current traumas.

“The loud, bullying voices of the European Research Group have been allowed to capture the party and push it to the precipice of a no-deal Brexit, which would be unbelievably damaging for our economy, our society and our Union. Anybody who shares ‘One Nation’ values does not have a home there any more.”

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By contrast, she said the Lib Dems under Ms Swinson offer “an incredibly positive beacon for what our future could be”, not only on Brexit, but also social justice, compassionate welfare and honesty over spending on the NHS and social care.

Ms Allen’s defection was announced hours after the latest talks between opposition leaders seeking a means to prevent no-deal Brexit broke-up without progress on the key issue of the leadership of a possible caretaker government to extend Article 50 talks.

Ms Swinson said there were still “constructive” discussions happening, but said that if Labour stuck to its position that only Jeremy Corbyn could head a temporary caretaker administration, then “it won’t happen because we know what the numbers are of people unwilling to back him – not just Liberal Democrats but also rebel Conservatives and the increasingly large number of MPs who have left Labour or are still in the Labour Party but cannot contemplate Corbyn in No 10”.

The Lib Dem leader said she could name “a dozen” MPs who could fill the role of caretaker PM, but said this was only one of a number of routes open to those opposing no deal.

Progress on issues like the Benn Act, to prevent Mr Johnson opting for no deal without parliamentary approval, had been made not in meetings of opposition leaders but in a wider group including rebel Tories and Labour backbenchers, she pointed out.

Stressing that the Lib Dem door remains open to future defectors, Ms Swinson said: “It remains the case that there are lots of MPs who are unhappy with the current direction of both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn and who share our values of internationals and a fairer and more inclusive society and want to stop Brexit and create a more positive future for our country.

“Obviously, I hope more of them will be joining us, but these things happen in their own time.”

Asked if she was actively talking with potential defectors, she replied: “I’m always in discussions.”