Jeremy Corbyn ally Chris Williamson has been suspended by the Labour Party after it bowed to pressure from its own MPs to take action in a row over anti-Semitism.
Furious Labour MPs had demanded he lose the whip after the party announced it was investigating his behaviour.
Mr Williamson, 62, was forced to issue a grovelling apology today after footage showed him saying that the party had been ‘too apologetic’ over anti-Jewish abuse claims.
But despite the internal investigation ultimately being able to kick Mr Williamson out of the party, a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn initially said he would not be suspended while it is carried out.
After this prompted a wave of criticism, a Labour Party spokesman said: ‘Chris Williamson is suspended from the Party, and therefore the whip, pending investigation.’
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson had lead criticism of the Derby North MP, saying the apology was ‘long-winded’ and that Mr Williamson would have already lost the party whip ‘if it was in my gift’.
Tom Watson confirms he had reported Mr Williamson and demanded he have the party whip removed
Ed Miliband, who was Labour’s first Jewish leader, hit out at Mr Williamson and demanded he face action from the party
The decision by the leadership was attacked by backbenchers, with Hull North’s Diana Johnson pointing out that who said ‘in the past Labour MPs have been suspended for much less’.
Mr Williamson said at a Momentum event in Sheffield that Labour ‘backed off too much’, following the resignation of nine MPs last week, some of whom cited growing anti-Semitism within the party.
The Derby North MP even admitted he toasted the resignation of fellow MP Joan Ryan – who slammed the party for failing to tackle ‘anti-Jewish racism’ – with a rendition of the 80s hit ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang.
Chris Williamson made a grovelling online apology on Wednesday after Labour MPs lined up to attack his comments
In a statement Mr Williamson today said he had been a life-long campaign against racism, saying: ‘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 anti-Semitism inside of our party.
‘I was trying to stress how much the party has done to tackle anti-Semitism.
‘Our movement can never be ‘too apologetic’ about racism within our ranks.’
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman welcomed the apology, which the party had already demanded he make for ‘deeply offensive and inappropriate’ comments.
But the apology did not seem to placate unhappy Labour MPs.
Some Labour MPs like Ilford North’s Wes Streeting questioned Mr Williamson’s sincerity after he posted the apology online
Hull MP Diana Johnson was one of those distinctly unimpressed with the Labour leadership’s response to the latest controversy involving Mr Williamson
Mr Watson, who has been increasingly vocal in recent days about anti-Semitism, tweeted: ‘It is not good enough. If it was in my gift I would have removed the whip from him already.’
And shadow defence secretary Nia Griffiths led a host of other Labour MPs who have have demanded Mr Williamson’s suspension or removal of the party whip.
Ilford North’s Wes Streeting added: ‘I do not believe this is sincere.
‘I believe you have deliberately baited Jewish people in our party and across the country.
‘I think you were caught in a moment of honesty saying what you really think. It was repulsive, revealing and you should be expelled from the Labour Party.’
Former party leader Ed Miliband, a secular Jew, condemned Mr Williamson’s actions and accused him of bringing the party into ‘disrepute’, suggesting ‘disciplinary action’ be taken.
Earlier Theresa May had waded into the row at Prime Minister’s Questions, adding her voice to calls for his suspension.
Minutes after he posted the apology Mrs May told the Commons: ‘You can never be too apologetic about anti-Semitism, but I think … what we’ve heard sums up Labour under their leader.
‘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’s remarks heap more pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, pictured leaving his home on Wednesday, to take action to address the anti-Semitism crisis that is overshadowing the party
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, branded the apology ‘half-hearted’ and suggested it looked as if it was ‘written by someone else’.
‘Today we have submitted a formal complaint to the Labour Party,’ she said.
‘Jeremy Corbyn must remove the whip at once if he wants to retain the faintest image of himself as an anti-racist.
‘Anything less removes any semblance of leadership and reveals only the most naked moral cowardice.’
But not everyone was criticising Mr Williamson, with a hashtag #istandwithchriswilliamson attracting support for him.
George Galloway, the former Labour MP, warned Mr Corbyn that he was allowing his ‘entire history and reputation’ to be ‘destroyed’, adding: ‘If you allow those who want your throat to take @DerbyChrisW (Chris Williamson) by his it really will be the end and that would be a tragedy.’
The release of the video came little more than a week after nine MPs quite Labour, with eight linking up with Tory rebels in the Independent Group.
They included several Jewish Labour politicians including Luciana Berger, who blasted Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the avalanche of anti-Semitism they had faced from party members.
Ian Austin, whose adoptive father was Jewish, also quit saying he was ‘ashamed’ of what Labour had become under Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour MPs have demanded that Mr Williamson face serious repercussions in the wake of comments about Labour being ‘too apologetic’ about anti-Semitism claims
Shadow defence minister Nia Griffiths joined her backbench colleagues in demanding that Williamson’s comments not go unpunished
The video has reignited the anti-Semitism row that has engulfed the party in recent years under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership
Labour MP Chris Williamson addresses the Momentum meeting Sheffield, where he tells members that the party has been ‘too apologetic’ over accusations of anti-Semitism
Labour MP Chris Williamson (pictured left with his close ally Jeremy Corbyn during the 2017 election campaign) said at a Momentum event in Sheffield tonight that the party ‘backed off too much’, following the resignation of eight MPs last week
In a move that will do nothing to dispel the feeling that Corbyn’s Labour has so far failed to take the claims seriously, Mr Williamson joked that Ms Ryan would likely have heard his singing as her parliamentary office is near to his
In the footage recorded by
‘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 too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.’
In a move that will do nothing to dispel the feeling that Corbyn’s Labour has so far failed to take the claims seriously, Mr Williamson joked that Ms Ryan would likely have heard his singing as her parliamentary office is near to his.
Ms Ryan quit Labour last week following the earlier resignations of seven of her colleagues, to form a new Independent Group of MPs.
Speaking at the time she blamed a ‘culture of anti-Semitism’ within Labour for her departure.
Mr Williamson’s comments come as the leader of Momentum admitted that Labour had ‘under-estimated’ anti-Semitism in its ranks and has a ‘much larger’ number of racist members than previously thought.
Jon Lansman, who founded the hard-left campaign group out of Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership campaign, said Labour had to be more proactive to find anti-Semites.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson described Mr Williamson as being ‘deliberately inflammatory’, in a tweet following the emergence of the footage
But he rejected claims from Labour deputy leader Tom Watson that Mr Corbyn should take personal charge of the fight to root out abuse.
Mr Watson yesterday sent a dossier of 50 new complaints about anti-Semitism to Mr Corbyn.
Labour’s deputy leader has become the focus of resistance to Mr Corbyn after eight MPs quit the party over anti-Semitism to set up the new Independent Group.
Former Labour MP Joan Ryan, Enfield North
Mr Watson has moved to create a new group inside Labour to promote the ‘social democrat’ tradition represented by many MPs who do not endorse Mr Corbyn’s far left-wing agenda.
Meanwhile, Labour has declined to comment on reports that Mr Corbyn is to meet former justice secretary Lord Falconer of Thoroton to discuss how the party can tackle the issue of anti-Semitism.
Mr Corbyn was said to be considering asking the peer, a former flatmate of Tony Blair, to be the party’s anti-Semitism surveillance commissioner, with full oversight of how it handles complaints and decision-making processes.
Mr Lansman – who is himself Jewish – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was ‘extremely upset’ by Ms Berger’s departure, adding: ‘I think any Jewish member of the party leaving the party because of anti-Semitism is a source of tremendous regret and sadness and some shame.’
He rejected Ms Berger’s claim that the party is ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.
But he said: ‘I do think we have a major problem and it always seems to me that we under-estimate the scale of it. I think it is a widespread problem.
‘I think it is now obvious that we have a much larger number of people with hardcore anti-Semitic opinions which unfortunately is polluting the atmosphere in a lot of constituency parties and in particular online. We have to deal with these people.’
Timeline of anti-Semitic scandals which have erupted under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) has been accused of failing to tackle the racism among his supporters
The anti-Semitism scandal has dogged Labour since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.
Here is a timeline of the controversies:
Labour MP Naz Shah is suspended for anti-Semitic posts – including one in which she appeared to endorse calls for Israelis to be deported to the US.
She apologised and was given a formal warning.
Ken Livingstone goes on the radio to defend Ms Shah – but sparks fresh controversy by claiming that Hitler supported Zionism.
He is suspended by Labour but refuses to apologise and has repeated the claim many times.
He eventually quits Labour two years later, saying his suspension has become a distraction.
A two-month inquiry by civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti finds that Labour is not overrun by anti-Semitism.
But the launch is overshadowed when Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth flees it in tears after being accused by Corbyn supporter Marc Wadsworth of colluding with the press.
Critics accuse the report of being a whitewash and Ms Chakrabarti is widely criticised for accepting a peerage from Jeremy Corbyn shortly afterwards.
The Home Affairs Select Committee says Labour is guilty of incompetence over its handling of anti-Semitism and of creating a safe space for people with ‘vile attitudes towards Jewish people’.
It is revealed that Jeremy Corbyn defended an artist who painted an anti-Semitic mural and said the offensive art should be removed.
He apologises saying he did not properly look at the picture before he made the post.
Jewish leaders take the unprecedented step of holding a demonstration outside Parliament protesting Mr Corbyn’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism.
Several Labour MPs address the crowds.
Marc Wadsworth is expelled from Labour after being accused of anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, Labour Jewish MPs tell of the anti-Semitic abuse they have suffered in a powerful parliamentary debate – and round on their leader for failing to tackle it.
The Labour leadership sparks fresh anger by failing to fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism
Peter Willsman, a strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn, is secretly taped ranting that Jewish ‘Trump fanatics’ invented the anti-Semitism storm engulfing Labour.
In an angry diatribe at a meeting of Labour’s ruling executive committee, he said he was ‘amazed’ there was evidence party members hated Jews.
He claimed ‘some of these people in the Jewish community support Trump – they are Trump fanatics’ before shouting: ‘So I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all.’
Jeremy Corbyn issues a video insisting he is committed to tackling the racism – but it is panned by Jewish leaders.
Corbynistas mount a social media campaign to get deputy Labour leader Tom Watson to quit after he criticises the party’s handling of anti-Semitism.
The Daily Mail exclusively publishes photos of Jeremy Corbyn holding a wreath at a ceremony where a terrorist linked to the Munich massacre was honoured.
The Labour leader insists he was there to honour others killed – but faces fresh calls to quit over the scandal.
Nine MPs including Luciana Berger, Joan Ryan and Ian Austin are among those who quit the Labour Party with broadsides at inaction over anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Berger, the Jewish Liverpool Wavertree MP, had faced a barrage of attacks from members of her own local party as well as wider abuse, said Labour had become ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’.
Enfield MP Joan Ryan was attacked because she was the chairwoman of Labour friends of Israel. And Dudley’s Ian Austen, who adoptive father was Jewish, said he had become ‘ashamed’ of what the party had become under Mr Corbyn’s leadership.