Chris Williamson should have Labour whip withdrawn, says Tom Watson
The deputy leader says Jeremy Corbyn must act amid anger at the way the party deals with cases of anti-Semitism.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has called on Jeremy Corbyn to withdraw the whip from Chris Williamson following his controversial readmission to the party.
There was widespread anger at the announcement on Wednesday that the Derby North MP has had his suspension lifted amid criticism at the way the party deals with allegations of anti-Semitism.
In a statement signed by 118 Labour MPs and peers, Mr Watson said they could not overstate the “depth and breadth of hurt and anger” at the way the case had been handled.
“We call on Jeremy Corbyn to show leadership by asking for this inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed,” the statement said.
“Ultimately, it is for Jeremy Corbyn to decide whether Chris Williamson retains the Labour whip.
“He must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking anti-Semitism seriously.”
Mr Williamson – a left-wing ally of Mr Corbyn – was suspended in February following his claim the party had been “too apologetic” in response to criticism over its handling of anti-Semitism allegations.
Following a hearing of a National Executive Committee (NEC) anti-Semitism panel, he was issued with a formal warning but allowed back into the party.
In their statement, the Labour parliamentarians said the way the case had been handled raised questions over the fairness of the process.
Statement on Chris Williamson pic.twitter.com/WGYx9os2A0— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) June 27, 2019
They said the panel had ignored a recommendation Mr Williamson should be referred to the National Constitutional Committee for action.
They also said that the composition of the panel had been changed at short notice in a way that seemed “highly irregular”.
“Justice needs to be seen to be done and this process has not done that,” the statement said.
“Given that the Labour Party is being investigated by the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) over allegations of institutional anti-Semitism this case is particularly important.
“It is clear to us that the Labour Party’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance of political interference. This must stop. We need a truly independent process.”
I'd like to express my heartfelt thanks for the avalanche of goodwill messages from grassroots members. I can now focus on representing local people in Derby Nth and working for a Corbyn-led Labour govt to positively transform the lives of millions.— Chris Williamson MP #GTTO (@DerbyChrisW) June 27, 2019
Together anything is possible!
The signatories include a number of frontbenchers, including shadow justice minister Gloria De Piero, shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman and shadow business minister Chi Onwurah.
Other prominent signatories include Yvette Cooper, Dame Margaret Hodge and Lord Mandelson.
The statement is likely to be seen as a further direct challenge to Mr Corbyn by Mr Watson, who is already at loggerheads with the Labour leader over the issue of a second EU referendum.
Campaigning in Hartlepool, Mr Corbyn defended the way the case was dealt with and said the party took all allegations of anti-Semitism “very, very seriously”.
He said: “I wasn’t involved in the decision at all, it was an independent panel set up through the National Executive, they examined the case and they’ve decided to let him back in, albeit with a reprimand.
“They went through the case, they interviewed him and they went through the case in great detail, and the three of them on the panel made that decision.
“We deal with anti-Semitism very, very seriously, there is no place for anti-Semitism in our society and obviously not in our party as well.
“Anyone that makes anti-Semitic remarks can expect to be at the very least reprimanded and, if they are very serious and they engage in anti-Semitic activity, then they are expelled from the party.”
Mr Williamson was suspended after video footage showed him telling a meeting of the grassroots Momentum group that Labour’s reaction to anti-Semitism allegations had led to the party being “demonised”.
He was also filmed saying he had celebrated the resignation of MP Joan Ryan, who quit Labour in protest over the handling of anti-Semitism and bullying complaints.
The panel’s ruling was welcomed by Mr Williamson who said he had received an “avalanche” of good will messages from grassroots party members.
However his readmission to the party was condemned by Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as “an utter disgrace”.
A Labour source said: “Under the party’s rule book, the General Secretary cannot overturn the decision of an NEC panel. Staff make recommendations to the NEC panel under the delegated authority of the General Secretary but only the NEC panel has the power to make the decision.
“The leader of the party is not involved in disciplinary processes or individual cases, which are independent of the leader. It would be wholly inappropriate for a leader to pick and choose cases in the way that is being demanded.
“Several of the MPs who have signed have in the past argued against political interference.”