The Labour Party’s suspension of MP Chris Williamson has been lifted following an investigation, PoliticsHome revealed today.
Although party staff recommended that the MP for Derby North be referred to the next stage of Labour’s disciplinary process, a three-person panel of the national executive committee decided to lift the suspension and issue a formal warning rather than refer the case to Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC).
Williamson had been suspended over his comments on antisemitism within Labour and the whip was withdrawn in February. At the time, dozens of Labour MPs including deputy leader Tom Watson and other high-profile figures in the movement called for disciplinary action to be taken against him.
The demands came after footage emerged of Williamson telling a Momentum event: “The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I have got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we’ve backed off too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic.”
Reacting to the NEC decision today, Jewish Labour Movement national chair Mike Katz commented: “How dare the Labour Party deny it is institutionally racist against Jews when it decides to take no action against Chris Williamson?
“It seems the decision to let him off is because he represents a marginal seat and there might be a snap election. It’s good to know that a party of anti-racists, led by an avowed anti-racist decides its OK to ignore anti-Jewish racism if there’s a vote to be won. This decision stinks and shows the moral terpitude the party finds itself in.”
Ruth Smeeth, JLM parliamentary chair, told ITV: “Oh my god, this is disgusting. I am horrified. It says a great deal about how seriously we’re taking anti-Jewish hate.” She added: “I’m really not comfortable being in the same room as Chris Williamson.”
According to PoliticsHome‘s report, Labour MP Keith Vaz – who represents BAME Labour on the NEC – argued that Williamson should be let off with a warning because he represents a marginal seat.
LabourList understands that the other panel member who voted for Williamson to be readmitted was Huda Elmi, elected as a representative of local parties on the ruling body.
According to an NEC source, another panel on antisemitism was supposed to deal with Williamson’s case earlier in the week. The original panel, which it is thought would have produced a different outcome, included Jon Lansman and Claudia Webbe.
However, Webbe did not attend, nor give notice of her absence far enough in advance. The panel consisting of Vaz, Elmi and George Howarth MP was therefore tasked with making a decision instead.
An NEC source told LabourList: “The recommendation [from party staff] was to refer the decision. If it wasn’t an MP, it would certainly not have happened this way.”
LabourList understands that the full NEC disputes panel, which meets in two weeks, has the power to overturn the decision. Political pressure could thus lead to Williamson’s case ultimately being referred to the NCC.
As Labour MP Wes Streeting has pointed out in a tweet, the decision as to whether the Labour whip is restored will be taken by Jeremy Corbyn, not the NEC.