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MPs tell Nancy Pelosi of antisemitism claims in Labour party

MPs tell Nancy Pelosi of antisemitism claims in Labour party

The senior US Democrat Nancy Pelosi met three former Labour MPs on Sunday and discussed their concerns about antisemitism in the party before a meeting with the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The House Speaker said she had met Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie and Ian Austin “to hear their perspective on Brexit, why they left the Labour party, and the importance of standing unequivocally against antisemitism wherever it is found”.

Gapes and Leslie are now part of the breakaway Independent Group of MPs, which plans to become a new political party called Change UK. Austin has not joined the group because of differences on Brexit.

Austin, the independent MP for Dudley North, has committed to voting in favour of delivering Brexit whereas Leslie and Gapes are vocal campaigners for a second referendum, which is the policy of their new party.

Pelosi is expected to meet government ministers on Monday as part of her trip, which will also include visits to Dublin and Northern Ireland.

Her office said Brexit was the focus of the trip, saying it was intended to “learn more about the future of the UK and Ireland amid Brexit and to express America’s enduring commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future for all who live there”.

Pelosi has been engulfed in the Democratic party’s own row over antisemitism, involving criticism of the Minnesotan representative Ilhan Omar, who apologised “unequivocally” after suggesting support for Israel was fuelled by donations from a lobby group.

Omar, who was subsequently accused of “downplaying” the September 11 attacks, has come under ferocious attack from Donald Trump and Republicans. In turn, Democratic presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders have defended her, though Pelosi has hedged her response to abuse directed at Omar.

All three MPs who met Pelosi on Sunday have been outspoken critics of the party’s response to its antisemitism crisis. Austin cited the failure to tackle antisemitic abuse as his key reason for quitting the party.

He said he had told Pelosi “how shocked not only the Jewish community but many decent British people are by how quickly Labour has changed from a mainstream party to one poisoned by racism and extremism”. He blamed Corbyn for the change.

The party’s former lord chancellor Charlie Falconer, who had previously been offered the role of being an independent arbitrator of the party’s disciplinary processes, said Labour had to do more to address the perception it was not taking the issue seriously.

“How can you convince people that you are a serious, moral, decent party if you are antisemitic?” he told the BBC.

The comments came in response to a piece in the Sunday Times which detailed how Corbyn had told MP Margaret Hodge that evidence of antisemitism in Labour has been “mislaid or ignored” – comments made in a meeting which Hodge secretly recorded.

A Labour spokesman said the comments “shows Jeremy Corbyn’s desire to make procedures as robust and efficient as possible and to rebuild trust with the Jewish community”.

The Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, a backer of Corbyn, said it was unacceptable to record a private meeting and alleged that critics were using the “Jewish issue” to attack Corbyn. “People in the parliamentary Labour party are using the Jewish issue, the antisemitic issue, as a big to stick to beat Corbyn, get rid of him,” he said.

“Nobody wanted him in the first place, remember that, and the parliamentary Labour party, you know, they put a no confidence vote in, and when they didn’t get that they started to say what issue can we get him on? ‘Oh, the Jewish issue, this is a good one.’”

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