Suspended Labour MP to sue Tory accusing him of ‘seeking to justify’ Hamas attack

The left-wing MP suspended by Labour over what the party said were “deeply offensive” comments at a pro-Palestine rally is threatening legal action against a Conservative MP.

Andy McDonald, the MP for Middlesbrough, has accused the Tory MP Chris Clarkson of “highly defamatory” accusations that he had sought to “justify” Hamas’s attack on Israel.

Mr McDonald said he was not prepared to stand by while Mr Clarkson or others “peddle the lie” that he sought to justify Hamas’ killing and kidnapping of civilians on 7 October.

He was suspended by Labour earlier this week after he used the phrase “between the river and the sea” in a speech during a demonstration.

A slogan used by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” has been described as antisemitic by several Jewish groups. Pro-Palestinian protesters deny it is antisemitic.

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, who has called pro-Palestine rallies “hate marches”, claimed that it is “widely understood” to call for the destruction of Israel.

But Mr McDonald pointed out that he had said: “We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.”

The left-winger – now sitting as an independent MP while an investigation by Sir Keir Starmer takes place – said his reference to the phrase was part of a “heartfelt plea” for peace.

His complaint on Thursday centred on a tweet by Mr Clarkson that read: “’Between the River and the Sea’ is a deeply sinister antisemitic trope – seeing a Labour MP use it whilst seeking to justify the murderous actions of Hamas should be shocking. Sadly, it’s barely surprising.”

Starmer is under growing pressure to back a ceasefire (Getty)
Starmer is under growing pressure to back a ceasefire (Getty)

Mr McDonald said: “Mr Clarkson’s statement is highly defamatory and caused serious harm to my reputation. I am not prepared to stand by, while an MP or others peddle the lie that I have sought to justify the actions of Hamas on October 7 2023, including the awful murder of 1,400 people in Israel.”

He added: “Much of what I have said in the last few days about the recent events in Israel and Palestine has been deliberately distorted and misinterpreted ... I am more than prepared to sue anyone who thinks that it is acceptable to publish lies about me.”

He has instructed his solicitors to “take the first steps in commencing legal proceedings against Mr Clarkson by sending him a letter of claim for libel”, he added.

The New Labour architect Peter Mandelson condemned MPs who use language that “would be interpreted as calling into question the existence of Israel and the right of Israelis to continue to live in their country”.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston, Lord Mandelson said: “I’m afraid that necessitates that person being put outside the tent, and that’s what Keir Starmer has done.”

Mr McDonald claimed Lord Mandelson “wilfully misinterprets my words in order to further claims that I wish my words to be misinterpreted. It’s a Kafkaesque argument!”

Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar said comments by Starmer lacked empathy (PA Wire)
Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar said comments by Starmer lacked empathy (PA Wire)

It comes as Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said Sir Keir’s initial response to Israel’s bombardment lacked “empathy” and “humanity”, according to a leaked account of a meeting of MSPs and the Labour Muslim Network.

Mr Sarwar – who has defied Sir Keir’s stance by calling for a ceasefire – also told the gathering that a “repair job” with Muslim voters would be required “every day” until the general election, the Daily Record reported.

Sir Keir has resisted calls for a ceasefire – backed by 16 of his own frontbenchers – arguing that Hamas would be “emboldened” by such as move.

Sir Keir upset many in the party by appearing to say in a LBC Radio interview that Israel had the “right” to cut off water and energy to Gaza. He clarified his views 10 days later, insisting: “I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.”

Meanwhile, Tory MP Paul Bristow was sacked from his job as a ministerial aide at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology after urging Rishi Sunak to back a full ceasefire.