Chris Williamson dodges suspension as Labour launches probe into anti-semitism comments

Posted On: 
27th February 2019

Chris Williamson will not be suspended by Labour after he claimed the party had been "too apologetic" about its anti-semitism problem.

Derby North MP Chris Williamson
Credit: 
PA Images

Party bosses have instead issued the Derby North MP with a "notice of investigation for a pattern of behaviour" - but he will continue to hold the Labour whip while the probe is ongoing.

The Labour MP faced a storm of criticism over the remarks, which were made at a meeting of Sheffield Momentum and captured on video.

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He eventually issued an apology, claiming Labour "can never be 'too apologetic' about racism within our ranks".

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said the comments "were deeply offensive and fell below the standards expected of MPs".

They added: "Downplaying antisemitism makes it harder for us to tackle it.

"Chris Williamson has rightly apologised and withdrawn his remarks and has been issued with a notice of investigation into a pattern of behaviour, and is not suspended during the investigation."

Mr Williamson's remarks at the Momentum event were obtained by the Yorkshire Post.

To applause from those present, 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've backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we've been too apologetic...

“We've done more to actually address the scourge of anti-semitism than any other political party. Any other political party. And yet we are being traduced.”

Labour bosses demanded that he retract his comments and apologise, while deputy leader Tom Watson led calls for him to have the whip suspended.

WILLIAMSON: I APOLOGISE

Mr Williamson finally issued a statement saying sorry for his choice of words, but rejecting claims that he was trying to minimise the problem of anti-semitism.

He said: "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."

But, despite the apology, he continued to come under fire from key members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Mr Watson branded it a "long-winded and heavily caveated apology".

He added: "It is not good enough. If it was in my gift I would have removed the whip from him already."

 

 

 

 

Theresa May meanwhile demanded action at Prime Minister's questions, telling the Commons that the row over from the Derby North MP's remarks "sums up Labour under their leader" and contrasting it with the treatment of former Labour MP Luciana Berger, who quit last week citing the party's handling of anti-Jewish abuse.

"They lose the honourable member for Liverpool Wavertree and they keep the honourable member for Derby North," she said.

"It tells you all you need to know about the Labour leadership: present but not involved.

"And perhaps if the Labour leader actually wants to take action against racism, he would suspend the Honourable Member for Derby North."

FILM ROW

The latest row came just hours after Labour chiefs also condemned Mr Williamson for hosting a film in Parliament about an activist suspended by Labour over anti-semitism claims.

He had reserved committee room 12 on Monday evening for a screening of "Witchhunt", an hour-long documentary about Jackie Walker.

Ms Walker was suspended by Labour in 2016 for claiming it would "be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust".

The MP also sparked controversy in 2017 by insisting that claims Labour had a problem with anti-Jewish racism within its ranks were a "dirty lowdown trick" and being used for "political ends"

In December, he was forced to apologise after giving his support to a musician accused of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial.

But earlier this month, Mr Corbyn defended his colleague against accusations of anti-semitism.

He said: "Chris Williamson is a very good, very effective Labour MP. He’s a very strong anti-racist campaigner. He is not anti-semitic in any way."