Labour MPs call on Jeremy Corbyn to overturn 'offensive' decision to re-admit Chris Williamson
Dozens of Labour MPs and peers have called on Jeremy Corbyn to overturn the “offensive and reputationally damaging” decision to re-admit Chris Williamson to the party.
In a statement co-ordinated by deputy leader Tom Watson, they said Mr Corbyn must “immediately” remove the whip from the controversial Derby North MP, to show that the party is taking a serious stand against anti-semitism.
PoliticsHome revealed on Wednesday how a three-person panel had voted to lift the suspension imposed on Mr Williamson, despite a recommendation from Labour staff that he be referred to the next stage of the party's disciplinary process.
Mr Williamson was placed under investigation by the party in February for "a pattern of behaviour" which had drawn criticism from Jewish groups, campaign organisations and Labour MPs.
In the most recent example, he had told a meeting of Sheffield Momentum that Labour had been "too apologetic" over its anti-semitism problem.
A total of 90 MPs and peers have put their names to the statement condemning the decision to let Mr Williamson back into the party.
It said: “We cannot overstate the depth and breadth of hurt and anger felt about the readmission of Chris Williamson into the Labour party and the questions that arise about the fairness of the process.
“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.”
They added: “We call on Jeremy Corbyn to show leadership by asking for this inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed.
“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.”
The politicians also raised their concerns that the panel which passed judgement on Mr Williamson was changed at the last minute.
They added: “Justice needs to be seen to be done and this process has not done that.
“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."
But in his first public comments on the matter, Jeremy Corbyn defended the Labour party's disciplinary procedures.
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."
Mr Corbyn added: "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."
"CHUFFED TO BITS"
Meanwhile, a row erupted between Labour colleagues as shadow minister Karen Lee praised the party's decision to welcome back Chris Williamson to its ranks.
In a post on Facebook, which has since been deleted, the Lincoln MP said: "Absolutely chuffed to bits with this news. A principled, kind man who has worked so hard for the Labour party and his constituency. Great to have him back on board.”
The comments attracted criticism from Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who told the Times: “If some colleagues are ‘chuffed to bits’ that the Jewish community has once again been told that anti-Jewish hate is welcome in the Labour Party then I don’t know how they can look at themselves in the mirror.”
According to The Lincolnite, Ms Lee later retracted the comments and told the site: “Chris is a colleague and was particularly helpful when I succeeded him as Labour’s fire minister.
“I deleted my hastily written post because I did not address the sensitivity of his case.
“I abhor antisemitism in all its forms and I will continue to celebrate and support the Jewish community across the UK.”
Amid the mounting criticism of Labour's decision to re-admit Mr Williamson, the MP thanked members for an "avalanche of goodwill messages" since his re-instatement.
He said: "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.
"Together anything is possible!"