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Labour has defended welcoming Tory defector Natalie Elphicke into the party after anger from some backbench MPs at the decision.

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said the Dover MP was a “good, natural fit” for her party.

Some Labour MPs have expressed concern about Mrs Elphicke’s political views and past criticism of Labour.

“People can change their minds,” Ms Dodds said.

Mrs Elphicke defected to Labour in a surprise move on Wednesday, hitting out at the “broken promises of Rishi Sunak’s tired and chaotic government”.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Labour party chair Ms Dodds claimed Mrs Elphicke was a “good, natural fit” for Labour.

“What she set out [in her statement] is absolutely fundamental to the Labour Party.”

She added: “Natalie Elphicke is not the first Conservative MP who’s taken this decision… [she’s] taken the same decision as so many other former Conservative supporters up and down the country.

“I think it’s absolutely right she’s done so because she’s clearly here putting her constituents first.”

Mrs Elphicke has campaigned for rent freezes and against homelessness – areas where she has common ground with Labour.

But she has also previously accused Labour of being soft on human rights and migration.

Many Labour MPs are deeply uncomfortable with remarks she made about her then-husband Charlie Elphicke, whom she replaced as Dover MP in 2019.

In an interview with the Sun after his conviction in 2020 for sexual assault, she was reported to have said being “attractive” and “attracted to women” had made him an “easy target”.

She has not commented on those previous remarks since defecting on Wednesday.

Labour said: “all those issues have been dealt with previously both in Parliament and in public.”

But Jess Phillips, the former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said Mrs Elphicke should “account for her actions”.

The Labour MP told ITV’s Peston: “I’m all for forgiveness but I do think that that needs some explaining.”

Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer said on Wednesday he was “delighted” with her defection, telling reporters it showed Labour was “the party of the national interest”.

In her defection statement, Mrs Elphicke said Labour had “changed out of all recognition” under Keir Starmer and now occupied the “centre ground” in British politics.

“For me key deciding factors have been housing and the safety and security of our borders,” she added.

Watch: Natalie Elphicke takes seat on Labour benches

It is the second defection to Labour for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in less than two weeks, after Dr Dan Poulter also quit the Tories last month. Mr Poulter was viewed as more on the centre of the Conservative party, however.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said Labour MPs were “baffled” by Mrs Elphicke’s defection, describing it as “really peculiar”. She said she did not “believe for a second that [Mrs Elphicke] has suddenly transformed into a Labour MP”.

John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, told LBC he was “surprised and shocked”, adding: “I’m a great believer in the powers of conversion, but I think even this one would have strained the generosity of spirit of John the Baptist, quite honestly.”

Labour backbencher Mick Whitley called the defection “outrageous,” adding Ms Elphicke did not share the “values of the Labour movement”.

Conservative MPs have also expressed surprise at Ms Elphicke’s defection, with Transport Minister Huw Merriman branding her “shameless” and an “opportunist”.

“I’m just disappointed for politics that she’s done what she’s done,” he added.

Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, said that he did not welcome Ms Elphicke’s defection, saying the party is getting “grubbier”.

He said the Labour Party should be in the business of changing the country, “not saving the careers of Tory politicians who the British public are rejecting because of the damage they’ve done to the country”.

“She’s not fit to be a Labour Party member, let alone an MP,” he added.

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