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Theresa May and Labour deputy Tom Watson call for MP’s suspension over antisemitism | Politics News

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The prime minister intervened in the latest Labour row about antisemitism to call for the suspension of Chris Williamson, after he said the party had been “too apologetic” over the issue.

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has released a letter he sent to the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby calling for the suspension of the MP.

Footage has emerged of Mr Williamson saying Labour has “backed off too much” over antisemitism.

A Labour spokesman said Mr Williamson had been “issued with a notice of investigation into a pattern of behaviour but has not been suspended.”

Theresa May also entered the row during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

She said: “They lose (Luciana Berger) and they keep (Mr Williamson). It tells you all you need to know about the Labour leadership: present but not involved.”

Mr Williamson, the Derby North MP, told a meeting of Momentum activists that Labour had “given too much ground” over the issue.

Chris Williamson
Image:
Chris Williamson made the comments to a meeting of Momentum activists

He has since issued an apology, saying he has always been anti-racist, and regrets his choice of words.

Mr Watson was understood to be prepared to write to Labour’s Chief Whip Nick Brown to say Mr Williamson had brought the party into disrepute and should have the party’s whip suspended.

Since the MP’s apology, Mr Watson has released the letter he sent, saying Mr Williamson’s words were “completely unacceptable”, and he would have already removed the whip if he had the power.

In his letter, Mr Watson said the party had asked Mr Williamson to cancel an event to be held this evening in his name, but was unaware that he had followed party orders.

Footage from the Sheffield meeting, obtained by the Yorkshire Post, shows Mr Williamson defending Labour’s record on antisemitism, saying it had “stood up to racism” but is “now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.

He said: “I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we’ve backed off too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.

“We’ve actually done more to address the scourge of antisemitism than any other political party.”

He also recounted singing 1980s hit Celebration, by Kool and the Gang, in response to the resignations of a number of Labour MPs last week, many of whom cited antisemitism as a reason for their departure.

Mr Williamson, an ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, is also facing criticism for booking a room in parliament to screen a controversial film about antisemitism titled Witch Hunt.

The documentary, directed by Jon Pullman, explores antisemitism allegations in Labour and defends activist Jackie Walker.

Ms Walker was suspended by Labour in 2016 after leaked footage showed her saying she had not found a definition of antisemitism she could work with.

The campaigner was also shown questioning why Holocaust Memorial Day was not more wide-ranging to include other genocides.

Ms Walker was removed as a vice-chair of Momentum, the pro-Corbyn group that grew out of his initial Labour leadership campaign.

Mr Williamson has previously described antisemitism “smears” as “a really dirty, lowdown trick” against Mr Corbyn, claiming many in the Jewish community are “appalled” by the “weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends”.



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Labour MP for Sedgefield Phil Wilson said the remarks were “outrageous” and called for Mr Williamson to be suspended.

He said: “When you’ve got an MP who’s expressing these views, I don’t think there’s any place for them – ultimately – in the Labour Party and we’ve got to be tough on them.”

It is understood Mr Brown and Labour general secretary Jennie Formby are in discussion about what action will be taken.

Mr Williamson has since apologised after being told to by the party.

In a statement posted to Twitter he said he had always been anti-racist, citing former membership of the anti-Nazi league and his direct work challenging antisemitic views.

He added: “It pains me greatly, therefore, that anyone should believe that it is my intention to minimise the cancerous and pernicious nature of antisemitism.

“I deeply regret, and apologise for, my recent choice of words when speaking about how the Labour Party has responded to the ongoing fight against antisemitism inside of our party. I was trying to stress how much the party has done to tackle antisemitism.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate and fall below the standards we expect of MPs.

“Downplaying the problem of antisemitism makes it harder for us to tackle it.”

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