Chris Williamson: the Labour MP at centre of anti-Semitism row
Corbyn urged to overturn the Derby North MP’s reinstatement to party
More than 100 Labour MPs and peers have written to Jeremy Corbyn demanding that he expel MP Chris Williamson from the party.
Williamson was suspended from Labour in February over comments he had made about allegations of anti-Semitism in the party. However, he was readmitted on Wednesday by a three-person panel of the National Executive Committee (NEC), the party’s governing body, following a disciplinary inquiry.
The decision has been blasted by 121 Labour parliamentarians - including Corbyn’s deputy Tom Watson and ten other frontbenchers - who have signed a letter to the party leader arguing that the case is “particularly important” at a time when Labour is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over alleged anti-Semitism.
Watson told the BBC that he was “bewildered” by the NEC’s choice to readmit Williamson, saying: “They have taken away a proper disciplinary inquiry that would have got to the facts of this case.”
The open letter calls on Corbyn to “show leadership” by asking for this “inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed”.
It adds: “The Labour Party’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance of political interference. This must stop.”
Separately, more than 70 Labour staff members have written to the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, to express their unhappiness over Williamson’s readmission.
Who is Chris Williamson?
A former bricklayer and social worker, Chris Williamson led Derby Council twice before being elected to the House of Commons in 2010. He is now serving his second term as Labour MP for Derby North.
The BBC notes that the 62-year-old is “one of the most outspoken MPs on the left of the party”. That said, Williamson is “one of the few backbenchers who agrees with Jeremy Corbyn on almost everything”, adds The Daily Telegraph.
Williamson has previously joined his pro-Corbyn colleagues in calling for MPs who criticise their leader to be de-selected.
What did he say about anti-Semitism?
Williamson was caught on film making controversial remarks during a meeting with Labour activists in Sheffield. In the footage, which was made public in February, he tells supporters that Labour had been “too apologetic” over anti-Semitism and was being “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.
Following a public outcry, Williamson said he “deeply regretted” the remarks and did not want to be seen to be “minimising the cancer of anti-Semitism”.
However, in an interview this week he refused “five times” to admit that he had done anything wrong, according to the Daily Mail.
He told BBC Radio Derby: “Anybody who knows me, who knows my record, knows I’m someone who has stood up against bigotry throughout my political life and indeed beforehand.”
What does Corbyn say?
Campaigning in Hartlepool, Corbyn told the BBC he “wasn’t involved” in the decision to readmit Williamson to the party. The Labour leader said: “It was an independent panel set up through the National Executive. They examined the case, they decided to let him back in, albeit with a reprimand.”
He added: “Anyone that makes anti-Semitic remarks can expect at the very least to be reprimanded, and if they are very serious and engaged in anti-Semitic activity then they will be expelled from the party.”