UK Labour politicians slam party for re-admitting lawmaker in anti-Semitism dispute

LONDON (Reuters) - Senior politicians in Britain’s Labour opposition expressed fury with their party on Thursday for readmitting a lawmaker who was suspended over comments he had made about anti-Semitism and demanded that leader Jeremy Corbyn intervene.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stands with local Labour candidate Chris Williamson (L) during an election campaign event in Derby, Britain May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

Labour has been battling accusations of anti-Semitism since 2016 and Corbyn and other senior party officials have been criticized for failing to take decisive action to deal with it.

British Jewish groups have accused Labour of becoming institutionally anti-Semitic and the issue has played a part in its failure to take electoral advantage of the Conservative government’s turmoil over Brexit.

On Thursday, Labour readmitted lawmaker Chris Williamson, 62, a close ally of Corbyn who was suspended after saying in February that the party had been “too apologetic” about anti-Semitism.

A Labour party official said Williamson was given a formal warning and allowed back in after an investigation by a panel advised by an independent barrister.

The decision has provoked outrage from other Labour figures, with 90 lawmakers and senior politicians, including the party’s deputy Tom Watson, signing a statement denouncing it.

“We cannot overstate the depth and breadth of hurt and anger felt about the readmission of Chris Williamson into the party,” said the statement, adding that the process was flawed and Corbyn should call for it to be overturned.

Corbyn, a veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights, has promised to drive anti-Semitism out of Labour, but that has done little to quieten his detractors. Nine lawmakers quit the party this year, citing the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism as well as its stance on Brexit as reasons for leaving.

“Anyone who makes anti-Semitic remarks can expect to be at the very least reprimanded and if they’re very serious and they’ve engaged in anti-Semitic activity then they’re expelled from the party,” Corbyn told BBC TV.

The governing Conservatives are currently choosing a new leader after Prime Minister Theresa May said she would step down having failed to get her Brexit deal through parliament but polls indicate that Labour has failed to benefit from their woes and the party also performed badly in May’s European elections.

“If Jeremy Corbyn ... is serious about tackling anti-Semitism, and I have to say after years of inaction I am not sure he is - he has a chance to demonstrate it right now,” said Wes Streeting, a Corbyn critic and one of the lawmakers to sign the statement.

“Our failure to do so will have huge consequences for the Labour Party,” he told Sky News.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison