Jeremy Corbyn pays tribute to Ken Livingstone as he resigns from the Labour party
Ken Livingstone has resigned from Labour and said he no longer wants to be a "distraction" from the policies of Jeremy Corbyn.
The former London mayor was initially suspended over claims he made two years ago that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism "before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".
Critics accused him of anti-Semitism and the Labour leadership has come under huge pressure to kick him out of the party.
Reacting to his resignation, Mr Corbyn said it was "sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics", but that resigning was "the right thing to do".
Following a disciplinary hearing in April last year, Labour's National Constitutional Committee continued Mr Livingstone's suspension for another 12 months, despite finding him guilty of three counts of bringing the party into disrepute.
At the time, Mr Livingstone said: "I do think it's important that the Labour party should not expel or suspend people for telling the truth."
It then emerged in March that outgoing Labour general secretary Iain McNicol had issued him with a rarely-used indefinite suspension.
But in a statement posted on his website, Mr Livingstone said that "after much consideration" he had decided to give up his Labour membership,
He said: "The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour prty have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time – which is to replace a Tory government overseeing falling living standards and spiralling poverty, while starving our schools and the NHS of the vital resources they need.
"We live in dangerous times and there are many issues I wish to speak up on and contribute my experience from running London to, from the need for real action to tackle climate change, to opposing Trump’s war-mongering, to the need to end austerity and invest in our future here in Britain.
"I do not accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour party into disrepute – nor that I am in any way guilty of anti-Semitism. I abhor anti-Semitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so.
"I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that."
In an apparent swipe at Mr McNicol, who was replaced as Labour general secretary by Jennie Formby, Mr Livingstone added: "Under Labour’s new general secretary I am sure there will be rapid action to expel anyone who genuinely has anti-Semitic views.
"I am loyal to the Labour party and to Jeremy Corbyn. However any further disciplinary action against me may drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy’s policies. I am therefore, with great sadness, leaving the Labour party.
"We desperately need an end to Tory rule, and a Corbyn-led government to transform Britain and end austerity. I will continue to work to this end, and I thank all those who share this aim and who have supported me in my own political career."
Paying tribute to his long-time ally, Mr Corbyn said: "Ken Livingstone’s resignation is sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics, but was the right thing to do."
Labour MP Wes Streeting said: "Ken Livingstone's exit from the Labour party is welcome, but he should have been expelled. We must now make it clear that he will never be welcome to return. His vocal cheerleaders and supporters should follow him out the door."
Richard Angell of centre-left campaign group Progress said: "Ken Livingstone should not have been allowed to resign before being kicked out. This is a failure on Labour’s part and a missed opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn to show he is serious about cleaning up Labour’s anti-Semitism problem and not just hoping it will go out of the media gaze.
"Jeremy Corbyn’s response is shameful. Ken Livingstone has brough shame on Labour, alienated very many British Jews from our party and its once proud record of combating anti-Semitism. Jeremy should have shown Ken the door not be ‘sad’ at his departure.
"This is one of the many reasons why members have no confidence in Labour complaints process."
But former Labour frontbencher Chris Williamson praised Mr Livingstone.