Tom Watson defies Jeremy Corbyn and calls for Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin probes to be dropped
Tom Watson has called for Labour to drop its disciplinary action against Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin - as he warned the party will "disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment" if it does not tackle its anti-Semitism crisis.
In comments certain to anger Jeremy Corbyn and his advisers, the Labour deputy leader also called for the party to fully implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's widely-accepted definiton of what constitutes anti-Jewish abuse.
Mr Watson's intervention, in an interview in The Observer, is significant because he has remained loyal to Mr Corbyn since the unsuccessful attempt to oust him as leader two years ago.
Last month's decision by Labour's ruling national executive committee not to implement to IHRA guidelines, along with its illustrative examples, sparked a furious backlash from most of its MPs, as well as the main Jewish community groups.
Margaret Hodge confronted Mr Corbyn by calling him an "anti-Semitic racist", while Ian Austin had a public row with Labour chairman Ian Lavery.
Both MPs - who lost relatives in the Holocaust - have been warned that they could be suspended from the party.
But Mr Watson said it was now time to draw a line under the row before it does even more damage to Labour's reputation.
He said: "This is one of those moments when we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, stand up for what is right and present the party as fit to lead the nation – or disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment..
"I think it is very important that we all work to de-escalate this disagreement, and I think it starts with dropping the investigations into Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin.
"I have frequently had very difficult conversations with both Margaret and Ian but what I understand is that your critics are not your enemies. On an issue that is so dear to them, I think people are very, very concerned that these investigations should be dropped quickly."
On the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, Mr Watson said: "We should deal with this swiftly and move on. We can’t have this dragging on throughout the summer. I have made no secret of the fact that ... we should adopt the full IHRA definition and should do it without delay."
His comments came barely 24 hours after Mr Corbyn tried to address the row in an article for The Guardian in which he insisted that anti-Semitism by Labour members was not being carried out in his name.
However, his efforts have been rejected by Jewish groups, who also claimed that the timing of the article - just as many were preparing to mark Shabbat - was insensitive.
Many Labour MPs took to Twitter to voice their support for Mr Watson.
Meanwhile, a former Labour minister has quit the party after 34 years.
Tom Harris, who served under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and lost his seat in 2015, told The Herald: "It's just not the place for me any more.
"I'm just an ordinary member of the Labour Party who has decided to resign after 34 years.
"It felt a wee bit like a bereavement, I felt a bit emotional, but it's just not the place for me any more. It's a personal decision."