Four Burnley Liberal Democrat councillors have quit the party and will stand as independents on Burnley Borough Council.
Gannow ward councillors Charlie Briggs, Neil Mottershead and Mark Payne, as well as Rosehill with Burnley Wood councillor Christine White will now sit on the council as the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party.
They have claimed that they did not agree with the pro-Europe’s party stance on Brexit and that the party had become too southern-centric.
However, the quartet have been branded as “lower than a snake’s belly” by furious Burnley Lib Dem leader Gordon Birtwistle who accused them of stabbing him and their voters in the back.
The group, which will be led by Coun. Payne, stated that the national party’s stance over Brexit was a key factor in their split from the party, something which Coun. Birtwistle disputes.
He said: “I feel completely betrayed and stabbed in the back by their actions. None of them had the decency to ring me or invite me to any of their meetings to discuss their concerns.
“Instead they held a number of secret meetings in the Lib Dem office in Rosegrove, using our electricity, to conduct their skulduggery.
“I have personally helped all of these councillors get elected, and have helped them in their personal lives. Only last week Christine White asked me to help her out on an unrelated matter.
“I even stood aside to allow Neil Mottershead stand for the county council which he promptly lost. They have very short memories.”
Coun. Birtwistle also questioned the group’s stated reasons for quitting.
He added: “Their claim that the party’s anti-Brexit stance was the reason for them quitting the party is absolute rubbish.
“If they felt so strongly about it they should have left the party at the time of the referendum.”
Mr Birtwistle, a former Burnley MP, said that the quartet’s actions have damaged the Burnley Lib Dem party’s chances of taking back control of Burnley Council.
“I have spoken to a number of colleagues in the party who are appalled at this. Labour will be rubbing their hands, he said.
“People voted for them as Lib Dem councillors, not as independents.
“They’re calling themselves the Burnley and Padiham Independent Party but what have any of them ever done for Padiham?”
Coun. Birtwistle also told the Express that he has reported Coun. Mottershead to the council’s standards committee over comments he made to his wife Kathleen over the phone.
Coun. Mottershead, who has been a Lib Dem councillor for the last eight years, said the decision to quit had been in the back of his mind for a while.
In a statement the group said: “As four proud northerners and residents of Burnley we have come to the sad conclusion that we can no longer support the Liberal Democrats or any Westminster based party.
“The party seems to be focused on the south and on cities where it believes it can gain the most support. We feel that the north is being forgotten and that the Lib Dems are now a party that can’t represent the people of Burnley.
“The last election was a clear sign that the party was not supporting areas such as Burnley.
“Non-metropolitan areas, and especially areas in the north seem to have become irrelevant to the national party. The party is now rightly viewed as a one policy party and has little to sell it to areas that voted decisively for Brexit.
“Whether you agree with the result of the referendum or not we should be trying to work with the government towards a Brexit that mitigates the damage to the economy.
“The party at present is not aiding a smooth transition to a Britain outside of the EU, it is, with others making the process very hard.”