Tory MP Caroline Nokes 'jokingly' confronted Wes Streeting over defection claims

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes "jokingly" confronted Labour's Wes Streeting over allegations he is behind rumours she has considered defecting to Sir Keir Starmer's party.

A friend of Ms Nokes, who has been the Tory MP for Romsey and Southampton North since 2010, said she "took him to task" over the claims that have recently appeared in the media.

The source told Sky News: "Caroline took him to task for spreading these rumours.

"Caroline has only ever been in one party and is Tory to her core," they said.

Referring to Mr Streeting's past role as the president of the National Union of Students before he entered Westminster, the source added: "Wes needs to realise he's not running the student union anymore!"

It is understood the interaction took place when the pair crossed paths before an interview, with one source saying Ms Nokes "jokingly told him off for causing trouble".

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Ms Nokes was reported to be on a "defection watch list" drawn up by allies of the Labour leader after Dan Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, switched to the Opposition.

He was later followed by Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, who shocked both her former party and those within Labour when she crossed the floor moments before Prime Minster's Questions earlier this month.

Mr Streeting, Labour's shadow health secretary, also gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph in which he claimed he had been talking to multiple MPs from the moderate One Nation Wing of Conservative MPs, of which Ms Nokes is a member.

Ms Nokes, who chairs parliament's Women and Equalities Committee, has publicly denied the defection rumours, telling Channel 4's political podcast: " Everyone seems to think I'm off to Labour. Nobody from Labour has ever even asked me - I've never had a conversation."

She added: "I've stood as a Conservative in every election since 2001 and I believe really strongly in a One Nation Tory Party that tries to give everybody the opportunity and encourages and fosters people to get the best they can for themselves, their families and their communities.

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"That's the message I want my party to go into the election with."

So far 76 Conservative MPs have confirmed they are standing down at the election, surpassing the 75 that quit in 1997, when Sir Tony Blair won a landslide for Labour.

Ms Elphicke - who has taken a hard-line stance on issues such as immigration - said she was defecting to Labour because the change in the Tory party since she entered parliament in 2019 "has been dramatic and cannot be ignored".

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Her shock defection caused a backlash within Labour, with Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips likening it to a "punch in the gut" due to the Dover MP's initial decision to defend her former husband, Charlie Elphicke, who was convicted of sexual assault.

A source close to Mr Streeting said: "Keir Starmer wants to unite our country. Our door is always open to the millions of disillusioned Conservatives who want to turn the page on 14 years of chaos."