Labour faces calls to suspend Chris Williamson over anti-Semitism comments

Chris Williamson MP official portrait taken in 2017Image copyright
UK Parliament

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Chris Williamson said Labour had done more to address anti-Semitism than any other party

Labour is facing growing calls to suspend one of its MPs for “deeply offensive” comments about the party’s handling of anti-Semitism.

Chris Williamson said Labour has been “too apologetic” in the face of criticism and was being wrongly “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.

Deputy leader Tom Watson said the Derby North MP brought Labour into disrepute and should have the whip withdrawn.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan also said there were grounds for disciplinary action.

And veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said “nothing less” than suspending the MP would do.

Labour has struggled to contain a long-running row over claims of anti-Semitism – hostility or prejudice directed against Jewish people – within its ranks.

Nine MPs quit the party last week, criticising the leadership’s handling of the issue.

In footage published by the Yorkshire Post, Mr Williamson, who is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, told activists Labour was being “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.

“I have got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we have backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.”

Amid applause from the audience, he went on to say: “We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any political party.”

Anger from Labour MPs

The remarks prompted anger across the party, with a number of MPs, including Stephen Doughty, Wes Streeting and Neil Coyle, calling for action to be taken against their colleague.

Labour said the remarks were indefensible and the MP should quickly apologise.

“These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate and fall below the standards we expect of MPs,” a party spokesman said.

“Downplaying the problem of anti-Semitism makes it harder for us to tackle it. Chris Williamson should apologise immediately and withdraw his remarks.”

The GMB’s general secretary Tim Roache tweeted that “it was time for him to go”.

On Tuesday, Labour officials criticised Mr Williamson for booking a room in Parliament for a screening of a film about anti-Semitism and the activist Jackie Walker.

Ms Walker was suspended by Labour over allegedly anti-Semitic comments in 2016, and the documentary, Witch Hunt, looks at those and other allegations within the party.

The move prompted by a complaint by Mr Watson to the party’s chief whip and general secretary.

Earlier this month, the Labour Party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, said the party had received 673 complaints in 10 months alleging acts of anti-Semitism by its members.

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