Labour removes whip from Chris Williamson

Labour removes whip from Chris Williamson

Move comes amid widespread anger from the PLP and Jewish community, after the Derby North MP, a staunch supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was readmitted to the party

Labour MP Chris Williamson. Photo credit read:R ousseau/PA Wire
Labour MP Chris Williamson. Photo credit read:R ousseau/PA Wire

The whip has been removed from Labour MP ChrisWilliamson over allegations of antisemitism.

The move comes amid widespread anger after the Derby North MP, a staunch supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, was readmitted to the party following a formal warning by an antisemitism panel on Wednesday.

PA understands the whip was automatically restored on Wednesday, but has now been removed again as a result of a fresh investigation being launched, pending a decision by the National Executive Committee (NEC).

A Labour Party source said: “Jennie Formby has written to the NEC to inform them that the issues raised in Keith Vaz’s email will be on the agenda for the NEC disputes committee’s next meeting.

“Under the party’s rule book, the general secretary and the leader of the party cannot overturn decisions made by NEC panels, which are advised by independent barristers. Only the NEC has the power to do so.

“Subsequently, the whip is not restored as the decision is still pending.”

Following the news, Williamson took to Twitter to say: “They say a week is a long time in politics: it seems two days is even longer. I’m naturally concerned by the lack of due process and consistency in how my case is being handled. I’ve been a loyal Labour member for 43 years, and will do my utmost to fight for my membership.”

In the wake of the decision,  one of the members of the three-person panel which agreed to let Chris Williamson back into the party, issued a warning and called for the decision to be reviewed.

Leicester East MP Keith Vaz wrote to general secretary Jennie Formby expressing concern saying that, being quoted by PoliticsHome as saying: “In my view, having served on the NEC for 15 years I consider the decisions the panel made yesterday cannot stand.

“In order to ensure complete integrity of the process either a new panel should be convened or all the cases from yesterday should be referred to the Disputes Committee for reconsideration.”

More than 60 MPs have signed a motion calling for a vote in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on withdrawing the whip from Mr Williamson for 12 months for bringing the party into disrepute.

A letter demanding Jeremy Corbyn withdraw the whip from Chris Williamson was also signed by deputy leader Tom Watson and 116 of the party’s MPs and peers.

He was originally suspended in February after video emerged of him saying the party had been “too apologetic” in the face of criticism of its handling of antisemitism complaints.

The latest move to have him suspended from the PLP came after Mr Corbyn ignored calls, led by deputy leader Tom Watson, to step in and withdraw the whip himself.

The motion calls for the case to be referred to the parliamentary committee – the influential backbench body which meets weekly with Mr Corbyn – at its next meeting on Wednesday.

If approved, under standing orders, it would then go a vote of the full PLP at Westminster.

The motion says: “Due to the exceptional circumstances in this case we are of the view that the allegation of bringing the Labour Party into disrepute made against ChrisWilliamson warrants an investigation by the parliamentary committee under this standing order and full consideration given to a recommendation of removal of the whip to the PLP.

“We therefore seek to ask the PLP to take action to suspend the whip from ChrisWilliamson for a period of a year.”

Signatories to the motion include Yvette Cooper, Dame Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting, David Lammy and Diana Johnson.

Under party rules, Mr Williamson would be entitled to make representations to the parliamentary committee before his case is referred to the PLP.

Meanwhile another senior figure, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, said he was “deeply concerned” at the decision to readmit Mr Williamson and called for it to be overturned by the ruling National Executive Committee.

He tweeted that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is currently investigating the party for alleged antisemitism, should also be invited to look at the “specifics of the case”.

The pressure on Mr Corbyn to take action himself meanwhile intensified after a key ally of the Labour leader said the MP “has to go”.

Jon Lansman, the founder of the grassroots Momentum group, said Mr Williamson had not shown “one iota of contrition” after saying the party had been “too apologetic” in the face of criticism of the way it dealt with antisemitism within its ranks.

He accused Mr Williamson of showing “contempt” for the panel’s ruling after he tweeted that he had received an “avalanche” of support from grassroots members.

In response, Mr Lansman tweeted: “This tweet reveals not one iota of contrition nor any acknowledgement of wrongdoing following a further formal warning from the Labour Party for behaviour grossly detrimental to the party. Such contempt for the party’s verdict! He has to go!”

A Labour source insisted that Mr Corbyn was not involved in the party’s disciplinary processes or individual cases.

“It would be wholly inappropriate for a leader to pick and choose cases in the way that is being demanded,” the source said.

“Several of the MPs who have signed (Mr Watson’s statement) have in the past argued against political interference.”

His readmittance to the party caused widespread anger from the community, with Simon Johnson from the Jewish Leadership Council, saying the decision was “beggars belief.”

“The lack of transparency and clarity around the process of why Mr Williamson has had his suspension lifted lends credence as to why the EHRC is investigating whether the Labour Party discriminates against Jewish people,” he added.

Similarly, Board of Deputies Vice President Amanda Bowman described the announcement as an “utter disgrace” and “yet more damning evidence for the EHRC’s inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party.”

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