Dozens of Labour MPs demand Starmer reverse 'wrong' block on Jeremy Corbyn

18 November 2020, 17:42 | Updated: 18 November 2020, 19:05

By Ewan Somerville

Dozens of Labour MPs have hit out at Sir Keir Starmer for withholding the whip from Jeremy Corbyn.

In a letter the group of 28 MPs and four peers, all allies of the ex-Labour leader including former senior frontbenchers John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey, called the move “wrong and damaging” and demanded it be “swiftly reversed”.

Mr Corbyn will have to sit as an independent MP for Islington North after his successor refused to allow him back into the parliamentary party on Wednesday.

It came hours after Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee reinstated him as a member three weeks following his suspension following a damning report by the human rights watchdog into anti-Semitism under his leadership.

Read more: Jeremy Corbyn will not have Labour whip restored, Sir Keir Starmer announces

Mr Corbyn claimed last month that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and “much of the media” - though he has since sought to clarify his comments.

Sir Keir said on Wednesday Mr Corbyn had “undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party's ability to tackle anti-Semitism”. The whip would be kept "under review", he added.

Jeremy Corbyn pictured outside his home earlier today
Jeremy Corbyn pictured outside his home earlier today. Picture: PA

The new leader now faces a rebellion after the group of 32 Labour MPs under the umbrella of the Socialist Campaign Group said in a statement tonight: “Yesterday’s decision to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party was the correct one and should be implemented across all levels of the Party.

“In light of this, the decision to not restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn is wrong and damaging to the Labour Party.

“The decision and the division it causes severely undermines efforts to unite to defeat anti-Semitism and fully implement the EHRC recommendations and to challenge and defeat this disastrous Conservative government.”

It comes after a series of Labour grandees criticised Sir Keir’s move on Twitter. John McDonnell, Mr Corbyn’s former shadow chancellor, tweeted: “Jeremy's gone through the formal procedures & decision has been made properly.

“I appeal to everyone that surely it's time to move on & start working together to implement the EHRC.”

Meanwhile, the Momentum group - which supported Mr Corbyn during both his Labour leadership campaigns - branded Sir Keir's decision “a joke”.

“A disciplinary panel found that Corbyn broke no rules - so now Starmer is making it up as he goes along,” its official Twitter account tweeted.

Read more: Rachel Riley: It is disgusting Jeremy Corbyn is back in the Labour Party

Read more: Dame Louise Ellman tells LBC Starmer should not reinstate party whip to Corbyn

Momentum also urged supporters to sign a petition, which soon attracted more than 1,500 signatures, calling for Mr Corbyn to have the whip restored.

But others lined up to back Sir Keir. The veteran Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who said: “Yesterday has shown once again just how broken and unjust the existing complaints system is.

“It has caused untold hurt and anguish across the Jewish community, undermined progress made and made me question my own place in the party.

“As Corbyn has refused to himself accept the findings of the EHRC report, refused to apologise for his actions and refused to take any responsibility, withholding the whip is the right decision.”

The decision also won the support of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an elected body which represents the Jewish community.

Its president Marie van der Zyl said Labour’s disciplinary process is “clearly still not fit for purpose” but Sir Keir had “taken the appropriate leadership decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn”.

Mr Corbyn was suspended from Labour last month for his response to the EHRC report which found the party had broken the law in its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

He later attempted to clarify his comments in a statement to the party, saying concerns about anti-Semitism were “neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated’”.