Angela Rayner says she would like to see Diane Abbott restored as Labour MP

The deputy party leader said she shared the ‘frustration’ that independent inquiries into Labour members were taking a long time.

Patrick Daly
Thursday 14 March 2024 17:54 GMT
Deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner said she personally wanted to see Diane Abbott back as a Labour MP (Henry Nicholls/PA)
Deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner said she personally wanted to see Diane Abbott back as a Labour MP (Henry Nicholls/PA) (PA Wire)

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has said she would “like to see” Diane Abbott back as a party MP and that she shares the “frustration at times of how long” investigations take.

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Former shadow home secretary Ms Abbott has sat as an independent MP since April after the Labour whip was withdrawn following a letter she sent to The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.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

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

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner

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.”

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.

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