Almost 100 Labour MPs and peers piled fresh pressure on Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism today by demanding his close ally Chris Williamson be re-suspended, hours after he was controversially readmitted to the party.
Mr Corbyn’s deputy Tom Watson led demands for the Derby North MP to have the whip withdrawn, the day after a decision to let him off with a slapped wrist over past behaviour sparked uproar.
In a statement to the party leader, Mr Watson and scores more opposition politicians said they cannot overstate the ‘depth and breadth of hurt and anger’ at the readmission of Mr Williamson following his suspension over allegations of anti-Semitism.
It came as former minister Lord Falconer said the decision to let off the Derby North MP with a formal warning ‘sends a terrible message about the Labour party’.
In their statement the Labour group said: ‘It is clear to us that the Labour Party’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance of political interference.
‘This must stop. We need a truly independent process.
‘We call on Jeremy Corbyn to show leadership by asking for this inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed.
‘Ultimately, it is for Jeremy Corbyn to decide whether Chris Williamson retains the Labour whip.
‘He must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking anti-Semitism seriously.’
Mr Corbyn’s deputy Tom Watson led demands for the Derby North MP have the whip withdrawn, saying Corbyn ‘ must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking anti-Semitism seriously’
The Derby North MP was suspended in February over comments at a Momentum meeting in Sheffield
Mr Williamson is a close friend and ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, pictured today during a visit to at the Heugh Battery Museum in Hartlepool
Mr Wiliamson had earlier hailed the backing he received from ‘grassroots’ Labour members today as the row over his readmission to the party with a warning continued to rage.
Backbench MPs and Jewish groups have torn into the party over the light-touch penalty given to a close ally and friend of Jeremy Corbyn over a pattern of behaviour.
This included complaining that Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ about anti-Semitism allegations at a Momentum meeting in Sheffield in February – after which he was suspended.
Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor told the BBC’s Politics Live Mr Williamson had been suspended for a ‘pattern of behaviour’ and his case should have been passed to a full disciplinary tribunal ‘as a minimum.
The peer said: ‘He had over time aligned himself with people who had either been expelled from the party for anti-Semitism or people who had committed unarguable anti-Semitic acts … and that is absolutely unacceptable.’
Lord Falconer appeared on BBC Politics Live along with Tosh McDonald, a close friend of Williamson and a Labour councillor
Mr Williamson was issued with a formal warning but allowed back into the party after a hearing of a National Executive Committee (NEC) anti-Semitism panel.
After the suspension was lifted Mr Williamson, 62, tweeted: ‘I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks for the avalanche of goodwill messages from grassroots members,’ he wrote.
‘I can now focus on representing local people in Derby Nth and working for a Corbyn-led Labour govt to positively transform the lives of millions.
‘Together anything is possible!’
He was backed today by his close friend Tosh McDonald, the former Aslef trade union leader who is now a LKabour councillor.
He told Politics Live ‘Chris Williamson hasn’t got a racist bone in his body.’
Mr Williamson, 62, was forced to issue a grovelling apology in February after footage from the Sheffield event showed him saying that the party had been ‘too apologetic’ over anti-Jewish abuse claims.
Shamed Vaz backed him
Keith Vaz is said to have had a key role in the decision to re-admit Chris Williamson.
The disgraced MP, who faces a sleaze inquiry and a bullying probe, was on a Labour panel that over-ruled officials who advised further action against Mr Williamson.
Sources said Mr Vaz, pictured, warned the suspension could risk the loss of his marginal Derby North seat.
He was backed by Huda Elmi, a fellow member of Labour’s executive committee, who has previously questioned the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission which is investigating Labour.
MP George Howarth is said to have been the only one to back the officials.
Despite the internal probe having the power to ultimately kick him out of the party, a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn initially said he would not be suspended while it was carried out.
But after this prompted a wave of criticism he had the whip suspended.
A party source said last night: ‘An NEC panel, advised by an independent barrister, found Chris Williamson had breached the Party’s rules and gave him a formal sanction.
‘He could face further, more severe, action if he repeats any similar comments or behaviour.’
Veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge has described a decision to lift Chris Williamson’s suspension from the party as ‘appalling’ and ‘outrageous’.
Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, Dame Margaret, who is Jewish, said: ‘It is appalling, outrageous and unacceptable that he should be allowed back into the party.
‘It’s a cynical move done on the day that we all got our forms to say ‘did we want to become Labour MPs again’, and having him suspended meant that he could not become a Labour MP.’
The Barking MP added that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could have the decision overturned.
‘He could tomorrow get Chris Williamson suspended, he could tomorrow actually overturn the finding of this panel and he could get Chris Williamson expelled,’ she said.
Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge said the decision to let him off lightly was ‘unbelievable’
Last month Labour faced one of the most shameful days in its history after a formal inquiry was launched into whether it has victimised Jews.
In a potentially explosive intervention, the equalities watchdog said it ‘suspects’ the party has committed ‘unlawful acts’ in its handling of the anti-Semitism crisis.
Only once before has the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a formal inquiry into a political party – and that was the far-Right BNP. The EHRC will investigate whether Mr Corbyn’s party has ‘unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish’ – and whether senior staff responded properly to anti-Semitism allegations against its members.
If Labour fails to accept its findings, it could be taken to court and be fined.
A Labour Party spokeswoman said: ‘The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are investigated in line with our rules and procedures.
‘We can’t comment on individual cases.’