Former Labour minister Ian Austin has demanded an apology from shadow chancellor John McDonnell for claiming he is “employed by the Tories.”
Austin announced his decision to quit Parliament on Thursday morning and urged voters to back Conservatives to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street.
The former Labour MP quit the party in February over what he claimed was a “culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance”.
But the shadow chancellor hit back on Thursday afternoon and accused Austin of being “employed by the Tories.”
Speaking in Liverpool, McDonnell said: “He’s now employed by the Tories. What else do you expect him to do an election campaign?”
“When you are employed by the Tories, you speak on behalf of the Tories. That’s what this was about this morning,” he added, prompting a round of applause.
But Austin denied the claim, which he said was “a complete lie”, and called for a retraction and apology.
“This is not true. It is a complete lie. I was appointed an unpaid trade envoy in July, along with 27 other MPs and peers from different parties, including Labour, to promote UK trade and exports. John should withdraw this lie and apologise,” he tweeted.
Austin was appointed trade envoy to Israel by Conservative PM Theresa May in July, but the role is unpaid and voluntary and drawn from across parties.
The spat came amid mounting scrutiny into alleged antisemitism in Labour, with the Jewish Chronicle’s front-page urging the public not to back the party.
The article said of Corbyn: “If this man is chosen as our next prime minister, the message will be stark: that our dismay that he could ever be elevated to a prominent role in British politics, and our fears of where that will lead, are irrelevant.”
McDonnell said Labour was “saddened” by the Jewish newspaper’s front page, but insisted the party has done everything that has been asked of it to address the issue.
“I think they’re behind the times. Everything that has been asked of us by the Jewish community we’ve done,” McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.
“I just say to them, look, have a look again at the reality of what we’ve done, because actually we’ve done everything asked of us,” he added.