Corbyn ally Chris Williamson suspended from Labour over anti-Semitism remarks

A prominent ally of Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from Labour after he apologised for suggesting the party had “given too much ground” in its response to complaints of anti-Semitism.

Derby North MP Chris Williamson said he regretted his “choice of words” and insisted he had not intended to minimise the seriousness of anti-Semitism.

But Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby decided to suspend him pending an investigation after his pattern of behaviour was reviewed by staff.

A party spokesman said: “Chris Williamson is suspended from the party, and therefore the whip, pending investigation.”

His apology was earlier rejected as “half-hearted” by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which sent a formal complaint calling for Mr Corbyn to withdraw the Labour whip.

There was a furious response from Labour MPs, with deputy leader Tom Watson saying the apology was “not good enough” and issuing a formal request for Mr Williamson’s suspension.

Labour had already branded Mr Williamson’s actions “completely unacceptable” after he booked a room in Parliament for the screening of a film about an activist suspended over anti-Semitism complaints.

The row was reignited by video footage showing him telling a meeting of the grassroots Momentum group that Labour’s reaction to anti-Semitism allegations had been “too apologetic” and had led to the party being “demonised”.

The video, obtained by the Yorkshire Post, was recorded at a meeting in Sheffield in the wake of last week’s resignation of eight Labour MPs to join the Independent Group.

Mr Williamson was also filmed saying he had celebrated the resignation of MP Joan Ryan, who quit Labour in protest over the handling of anti-Semitism and bullying complaints.

Theresa May seized on the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, challenging Mr Corbyn to suspend the man he once praised as a “very good, very effective Labour MP”.

Moments before the PM spoke, Mr Williamson issued a statement insisting he had been “an anti-racist all my life” and that it pained him to think that anyone should believe he intended to “minimise the cancerous and pernicious nature of anti-Semitism”.

Promising to be “more considered in my remarks” in future, Mr Williamson said: “I deeply regret, and apologise for, my recent choice of words when speaking about how the Labour Party has responded to the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism inside of our party. I was trying to stress how much the party has done to tackle anti-Semitism.

“Our movement can never be ‘too apologetic’ about racism within our ranks. Whilst it is true that there have been very few cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party – something I believe is often forgotten when discussing this issue – it is also true that those few are too many.”

Earlier, a Labour spokesman said Mr Williamson had been issued with a “notice of investigation for a pattern of behaviour”, but at that stage had not been suspended from the party.

The spokesman said the comments were “deeply offensive” and “downplaying the problem of anti-Semitism makes it harder for us to tackle it”.

After he was suspended, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said Labour had taken the “right decision, if long overdue”.

They said on Twitter: “Thanks to @tom_watson and all those Labour MPs who had to push the party leadership to take this matter seriously.”

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