Jeremy Corbyn warned more Labour MPs could quit over 'appalling antisemitism abuse'

19 February 2019, 02:23 | Updated: 19 February 2019, 07:55

Jeremy Corbyn has been warned more Labour MPs will resign unless he gets a grip of the antisemitism problem within the party.

Labour chairman Ian Lavery faced an angry backlash at a "heated" meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday, after seven MPs quit in protest against Mr Corbyn's leadership.

Party sources said Mr Lavery stressed the leadership's commitment to rooting out antisemitism at the behind-closed-doors gathering in Westminster.

His claims are said to have been greeted with derision by some of those present, as he faced accusations he had failed to understand the "enormity" of the problem.

Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey said they would be sitting as a new Independent Group in the Commons and urged MPs - from Labour and other parties - to join them.

The MPs had condemned Mr Corbyn's stance on Brexit as well as his handling of the antisemitism issue.

Their departure from Labour is potentially the most significant split in British politics for a generation.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called on the MPs to do "the honourable thing" and stand down from parliament to contest by-elections.

But a number of MPs turned their fire on the leadership at the PLP meeting, after Ms Berger, who is Jewish, told a press conference she was ashamed to be a member of a party which was "institutionally antisemitic".

Mr Lavery was said to have have expressed anger at the claim, saying that if the party was antisemitic he would not be a member.

But he was challenged by other MPs who said he showed no understanding of the scale of the problem.

Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth said in an emotional intervention that she and Louise Ellman, another Jewish MP, had been told by a party member they did not have "human blood".

They added that no action had been taken against the individual concerned.

Ms Ellman said afterwards: "It was appalling.

"He (Mr Lavery) showed no understanding of the enormity of what is going on."

Ian Austin, a long-standing critic of Mr Corbyn's leadership, said Mr Lavery's performance had only made the situation worse.

He said: "The party has got to show it is tackling antisemitism.

"I don't think he came close to demonstrating the leadership understand the scale of the problem we have.

"I think it will result in people thinking long and hard about their position in the party."

Another MP left the meeting saying: "It was a complete and utter waste of time - a dialogue of the deaf."

A party source said Mr Lavery had spelt out the measures being taken to deal with the "appalling abuse".

The source said: "Ian Lavery spoke about the party's traditions as a broad church, in which there is a wide range of opinions, but we work together to build a brighter future for millions of people and transform our society.

"He made clear the party's absolute determination to root out antisemitism and the work that is being done to improve procedures to tackle this appalling abuse."

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson - who has been critical in the past of efforts to deal with antisemitism in the party - had said earlier he feared there could be further resignations.

He said: "I confess I feared this day would come.

"And I fear now that unless we change, we may see more days like this."

He called on Mr Corbyn to reshuffle his frontbench team so it better reflected the balance of opinion in the PLP where many MPs reject the leader's left-wing agenda.

Hours after the resignations, former hard left politician Derek "Degsy" Hatton told Sky News he has been readmitted to the Labour Party.

The 71-year-old, a member of the Militant tendency that infiltrated Labour in the 1970s and 1980s, was expelled from the party in 1986 after being found in breach of their rules.