Antoinette Sandbach, one of the rebel Conservative MPs ejected from the party for defying the government over no-deal Brexit, has joined the Liberal Democrats in a boost to Jo Swinson’s party at the start of the general election campaign.
The defection means the Lib Dems will end the session of parliament next week with 20 MPs, against 12 following the 2017 election. The increase has come from seven MPs moving from other parties and one byelection win, in Brecon and Radnorshire.
Sandbach, who has represented the Cheshire constituency of Eddisbury since 2015, was on the liberal, remain wing of the Tories. She was among 21 Conservative MPs who lost the party whip in September after voting to assist the passage of a backbench-instigated bill seeking to stop no deal.
Ten of the MPs were readmitted to the parliamentary party on Tuesday, but Sandbach was not among them. Earlier this month she lost a vote of confidence among members of her local Conservative party association, a possible prelude to being deselected.
The Lib Dem statement announcing the move said Sandbach would contest her current seat for the party in the election on 12 December.
It will be a tough ask for her to win, even as the incumbent. Eddisbury has been Conservative ever since it was established under its current boundaries in 1983. In the 2017 election, Sandbach won a near-13,000 majority over Labour, with the Lib Dem candidate coming third with just 2,800 votes.
In a statement released by her new party, Sandbach said: “This general election will be the most important in my lifetime. People have a very clear choice: the Conservative party offers years of uncertainty, while the Liberal Democrats will stop Brexit.
“I’m so proud to stand alongside other Liberal Democrat candidates across the country to fight for a brighter future with Jo Swinson, our candidate to be prime minister.
“I will stand on my strong local record, helping to secure local investment, fighting for fair funding for our schools and to secure additional funding in local health services.”
Swinson said Sandbach was “a passionate campaigner, and will be a fantastic candidate at the general election and a great addition to our party. Her defection clearly shows that the Liberal Democrats are the strongest party of remain and attracting support from right across the political spectrum.”
She joins the likes of fellow former Conservative Sarah Wollaston in fighting her existing seat as a Lib Dem. Others have been moved to new constituencies, shifting out the party’s existing candidates.
Chuka Umunna, once of Labour, is giving up his Streatham seat to fight the Cities of London and Westminster; another ex-Labour MP, Luciana Berger, is moving from Liverpool Wavertree to Finchley and Golders Green in north London; and Sam Gyimah, a recent convert from the Tories, is to quit East Surrey and try his luck in Kensington.