Members of the Jewish community have welcomed Ken Livingstone resignation from the Labour Party, with the former London Mayor saying his continued membership had become a “distraction”.
In a statement, the former London mayor, who was suspended in 2016 for claiming Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s, said he was leaving with “great sadness”.
He said that he continued to reject the allegation that he had brought the party into disrepute and insisted he was in no way guilty of anti-Semitism.
“After much consideration, I have decided to resign from the Labour Party,” he said.
“The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party 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.”
Labour leader Jeremy 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.”
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While Mr Livingstone rejected the charge of anti-Semitism, he acknowledged some of his comments had caused offence in the Jewish community, for which he was “truly sorry”.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Livingstone said he remained loyal to the Labour Party and would continue to work for the election of a government led by Mr Corbyn.
“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,” he said.
“I am therefore, with great sadness, leaving the Labour Party.”
Reacting to his resignation, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council said it is “clear that he wanted to avoid going through a disciplinary process. His resignation does not detract from the need for the Labour party to take concrete action to counter anti-Semitism that we set out in out letter on 28 March. It does not solve any of the party’s issues with anti-Semitism, it simply avoids a potentially messy disciplinary process.”
The Jewish Labour Movement issued a statement, saying it is “under no illusions. Livingstone was guilty of bringing the Labour Party into disrepute and was given a slap on the wrist. He should have been expelled then. This does not prove the Labour Party is willing to take serious action against anti-Semitism in its ranks. The outstanding disciplinary cases are only one part of a continuing and increasing problem that requires action, not words”.
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust reacted to his resignation by saying she is “glad Ken Livingstone has quit – it’s just a great shame the Labour Party did not expel him a long time ago for his repeatedly offensive remarks.
“While Mr Livingstone may have left the Labour Party, the problem of antisemitism has not. Let’s hope it’s actually dealt with. Urgently.”