The chief of staff at Britain’s biggest trade union has called for George Galloway’s readmission to the Labour Party.

Andrew Murray, until recently a Communist leader in the UK, works for Unite the union and played an important role in Labour’s impressive general election campaign after he was seconded to the party.

In an interview with the Morning Star, Murray said it was “long past time” for Galloway to be readmitted to the party, after he was expelled in 2003 for telling British troops to disobey their orders in Iraq.

The two men worked together in the Stop the War Coalition, which organised the biggest anti-war march in recent British history, and this week Murray said Galloway’s expulsion from Labour was “vicious, illegal and disgraceful”.

Galloway is a vehement critic of Israel and has refused to debate Israelis. He was a Labour MP for 16 years and once famously declared Bradford an “Israeli-free zone,” only for the Israeli ambassador to visit the West Yorkshire city the next day.

However, there are growing calls for his return to the party, with more than 5,000 grassroots Labour members signing an online petition calling for his expulsion to be overturned.

Murray’s intervention will prompt questions about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Galloway. Earlier this year Corbyn praised Murray’s “enormous abilities and professionalism,” adding: “I don’t believe that Andrew is anything other than a democratic socialist and a member of the Labour party, like me.”