Growing calls for Diane Abbott to be restored as Labour MP

Labour MP Diane Abbott (PA Wire)
Labour MP Diane Abbott (PA Wire)

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner is among Labour MPs calling for Diane Abbott to be reinstated as a party MP amid “frustration” at a lengthy investigation into her alleged antisemitic remarks.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said an 11-month investigation into alleged antisemitic remarks that Ms Abbott made was “not resolved” as he resisted calls to restore the Labour whip.

Former shadow home secretary Ms Abbott has sat as an independent MP since April after the Labour whip was withdrawn following a letter she sent to The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who has been at the centre of a Conservative race row in recent days, is still awaiting the outcome of an independent process looking into her remarks.

I would like to see Diane back but the Labour Party has to follow its procedures

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner

But Ms Rayner, asked at a lunch with Westminster reporters if she wanted to see Ms Abbott back in the Parliamentary Labour Party, said: “Personally, I would like to see Diane back but the Labour Party has to follow its procedures.

“And for me, that is the most important thing, that we have made sure our party is fit to govern by making sure we have got complaint procedures that are robust and people can have confidence in.

“So it doesn’t matter what I think because I don’t make that decision because it is done through a panel, it has gone through experts, and I’m not involved in that process.”

Ms Rayner, who served in former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet alongside Ms Abbott, said she and party leader Sir Keir – following reforms made after the pair took the reins – “do not interfere” with the complaints process.

She added: “So yes, I share the frustration at times of how long these processes take but in (some) instances there are sensitive reasons for that.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (PA Wire)
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (PA Wire)

Labour MP Jess Phillips joined calls for Ms Abbott to be readmitted to the parliamentary party.

Speaking on Sky's Electoral Dysfunction podcast, Ms Phillips said: "You would want to see the first black woman elected to parliament, whether you like her politics or not, you would want to see it be celebrated in the same way the Harriet Harman is going to get as she steps down. These women are trailblazers.

"And for it to end in this sort of sticky horror where everybody's fighting just seems a real shame.

"So I would much prefer to see Diane Abbott have the whip restored."

Referring into the length of time it has taken for Labour to investigate the comments that led to Ms Abbott’s suspension, she said: "If there is an investigation into the account of what happened, I have absolutely no idea why it would take a year.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips (PA Media)
Labour MP Jess Phillips (PA Media)

In an earlier interview on Thursday, Sir Keir resisted calls to welcome Ms Abbott back to the party fold.

Ms Abbott, a close ally of left-wing stalwart Mr Corbyn, who in 2020 had the whip removed following his response to the equalities watchdog report into antisemitism in the party during his tenure as leader, has asked Sir Keir to restore her to his party’s parliamentary ranks.

Britain’s longest-serving black MP was the target of comments by Tory donor Frank Hester, who allegedly said in 2019 that she made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Sir Keir said “we must support” Ms Abbott after the recent emergence of Mr Hester’s “racist and misogynistic” remarks.

However, he said that should not be conflated with the antisemitism accusations she faces over her letter in The Observer.

Following a backlash to her letter, Ms Abbott apologised for any “anguish” caused and withdrew her comments.

After Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, in which Sir Keir urged Rishi Sunak to return Mr Hester’s £10 million donations, the Labour leader approached Ms Abbott to offer support.

Ms Abbott, who remains a Labour member, said she replied: “You could restore the whip.”

But on Thursday, Sir Keir said the suspension was “an entirely different issue” from the racism storm and cautioned against conflating the two matters.

“That was about allegations of antisemitism in relation to a letter… which is subject to an ongoing investigation, which is separate from me. That’s not something which I conduct,” he told BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine.

He said the “independent process” was “not resolved”.

Sir Keir also noted that Ms Abbott has been “subjected to more of that kind of abuse than I think any other MP ever”.

“We absolutely need to put our arm around her and give her support in relation to that,” he added.