Labour suspends MP Chris Williamson over 'too apologetic' anti-Semitism claim

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Libby Wiener

Under fire Labour MP Chris Williamson has been suspended by his party, pending investigation into his recent comments on anti-Semitism.

He had sparked anger among several MPs in his own party with a claim the it had been "too apologetic" over its handling of anti-Semitism.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "Chris Williamson is suspended from the Party, and therefore the whip, pending investigation."

The ally of Jeremy Corbyn had been issued with a "notice of investigation for a pattern of behaviour", but a decision was later taken by the party's general secretary Jennie Formby to suspend him.

The actions come after he faced criticism from several Labour MPs over his recorded comments at a meeting.

In the footage, Mr Williamson said Labour’s response to complaints of anti-Semitism had contributed to the party being “demonised”.

In a clip published by the Yorkshire Post, the Derby North MP told a meeting hosted by grassroots group Momentum that the party had “given too much ground”.

Mr Williamson also said he had celebrated the resignation of former Labour MP Joan Ryan, who defected to join the Independent Group of MPs last week.

Jewish MP Luciana Berger, who quit Labour over its handling of anti-Semitism, wrote on Twitter of the video: “This is what I have left behind. It’s toxic. Our country deserves so much better. #ChangePolitics”.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson described Mr Williamson’s behaviour as “deliberately inflammatory”.

Meanwhile, Cardiff South MP Stephen Doughty tweeted: “This conduct is unacceptable and has no place in our party.

“I have made clear to both the leader’s office and our whips that I expect urgent action to be taken.”

Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips said Mr Williamson’s comment seemed “specifically designed to upset”, adding: “Must be disciplined.”

Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy said anti-Semtitism has to be “expunged not ignored”, tweeting: “Those who perpetuate it or minimise it bring the party into disrepute. No ifs, no buts. #standupspeakup”.

And Ilford North MP Wes Streeting tweeted: “Stomach-turning. No action will be taken.”

After the angry response, Mr Williamson said: "I deeply regret, and apologise for, my recent choice of words."

What exactly did Chris Williamson say?

In the video, recorded at a meeting in Sheffield, Mr Williamson said: “The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now 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 on too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.”

Mr Williamson also said he had sung Celebration by Kool & The Gang after hearing of Ms Ryan’s resignation.

Joan Ryan was one of nine MPs who quit Labour in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Credit: PA

Dr Abdul Gail Shaif Kasim, who shared a platform with Mr Williamson, defended applauding the MP's comments.

"I think we need to root out anti-Semitism from the Labour party; I think we need to root out racism from the Labour party; I think we need to root out Islamophobia from the Labour Party; all these things are important and they must be rooted out," Dr Kasim told ITV News.

"They must not be used as a bat to bat Jeremy Corbyn, that's the issue where we differ.

"I think the party needs to root out anti-Semitism wherever it is, wherever it arises but it mustn't be used as a political tool so we can undermine it."

Dr Kasim: "I actually like the man and I personally support him.

  • Dr Abdul Gail Shaif Kasim speaking to ITV News

She was one of nine MPs who quit in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership last week, with his handling of anti-Semitism in the party among their central grievances.

The video of Mr Williamson emerged as he came under fire for booking a room in Parliament for a screening of a film about anti-Semitism and activist Jackie Walker.

She was suspended by Labour over allegedly anti-Semitic comments in 2016.

Mr Watson said he reported the matter to the chief whip and general secretary “as soon as” he found out about it.

Prior to Mr Williamson's statement, a Labour Party spokesman said his actions had been “completely inappropriate” and fell below the standards it expects of MPs.

During a visit to Derbyshire in January, Mr Corbyn said Mr Williamson was a "very good, very effective Labour MP".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Chris Williamson is a ‘very effective’ MP who is ‘not anit-Semitic in any way’ Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Labour leader told Derbyshire Live: "He’s a very strong anti-racist campaigner. He is not anti-Semitic in any way."

Mr Williamson was first elected MP for Derby North in 2010, but was unseated in the 2015 general election.

He ran again in 2017, this time receiving a visit from Mr Corbyn during the general election campaign, and won.

Mr Williamson was later made a shadow fire and emergency services minister.

He left the post by mutual agreement six months later after commenting on policy outside his brief to suggest that council tax should be doubled for better-off homes.