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Ivan Lewis: 'I urged Jeremy Corbyn to cut ties with anti-Semites... next minute I was fired'

Lewis on his removal as shadow Northern Ireland secretary

By Liam Clarke

Published 24/09/2015

Ivan Lewis
Ivan Lewis

Ivan Lewis has claimed he was sacked by text as Northern Ireland Secretary after telling new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to be careful appearing on platforms with alleged anti-Semites.

Mr Lewis, MP for the safe Labour seat of Bury South, gave some details of the process to his local paper, the Bury Times, and others to the Jewish News, an online paper. Mr Lewis is Jewish and there is a large Jewish population in his constituency.

Mr Lewis, a Blairite, has strong support in this area and had asked to meet Mr Corbyn to raise concerns about appearing with Holocaust deniers.

The Community Security Trust, which campaigns against racism and anti-Semitism, had complained that "Corbyn's support for extremists with a record of anti-Semitic statements or activities is extensive."

Before the meeting, Mr Lewis said: "It saddens me to have to say to some on the left of British politics that anti-racism means zero tolerance of anti Semitism, no ifs, and no buts. I have said the same about Islamaphobia and other forms of racism to a minority of my constituents who make unacceptable statements." After the meeting, a spokesman told the Jewish News "contrary to false press reports, Ivan has never accused Jeremy of being anti-Semitic but he stands by his concerns about Jeremy's support for such people."

Mr Lewis served as Shadow spokesman here since 2013 and has been replaced by Vernon Coaker.

He gave more details of his exchange with Jeremy Corbyn to the Bury Times.

He explained: "It's no secret that I have pretty fundamental differences with Jeremy Corbyn. However, given the fact that Northern Ireland is going through an unprecedented crisis, I felt the right thing to do was to stay in my job for the time being."

He added: "I was heavily involved on a day-to-day basis with the issue and, as Labour oversaw the peace process, the party has a particular responsibility to Northern Ireland. The long conversation with Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday, September 13 was very amicable, during which I had requested a meeting with him about anti-Semitism and he agreed to do that."

He recalled: "He said he would consider what I'd said about staying in my role and come back to me that night or in the coming days but, within five minutes of that conversation, I had a text to say he was appointing someone else. I was very surprised."

When asked about the fairness of that approach, Mr Lewis added: "That's a matter for him. It's for other people to judge what happened."

Any suspicion of political links to anti-Semites is embarrassing for Mr Corbyn in the run-up to the Labour Party conference, which starts on Friday.

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