Diane Abbott refused to go on antisemitism course to rejoin Labour

Exclusive: MP was offered the Labour whip back if she underwent antisemitism training but refused the offer, The Independent has been told

Archie Mitchell
Friday 15 March 2024 18:27 GMT
Starmer must support Diane Abbott and restore whip, says Dawn Butler

Diane Abbott was offered the Labour whip back but refused because she would have had to undergo antisemitism training, The Independent has been told.

An investigation into the long-serving black MP has been ongoing since her suspension last April following an article she wrote about Jewish people, with pressure mounting on the party over why it has been taking so long.

But sources from the left and right of the Labour Party have told The Independent that the investigation is dragging on in part because of Ms Abbott’s own refusal to compromise.

The revelation comes as senior Labour figures have rallied around Ms Abbott in the wake of a racism row involving the Conservative Party’s biggest donor, who said the MP made him “hate all black women” and that she should be shot.

Abbott had the whip suspended last April after writing a letter suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities (PA Wire)

Shadow deputy leader Angela Rayner and mother of the House Harriet Harman are among those who have said they want her allowed back into the party.

Ms Abbott had the whip suspended last April after writing a letter suggesting Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

She immediately apologised and said the letter published in The Observer had been an “initial draft” sent by mistake.

According to sources, Ms Abbott was offered the opportunity to have the whip restored if she offered a “more fulsome” apology and took an antisemitism awareness course.

One said this led to her doing a “reverse ferret” after her initial apology, and said she would not apologise or undertake the requested training.

“And that is why this has been going on for 10 months and not 25 minutes,” a shadow minister told The Independent. Another MP on the left of the party added: “I don’t know why she didn’t just do it.”

Ms Abbott said “key aspects” of what The Independent was told were wrong, but did not offer any more detail: “I cannot disclose details of this process because, under Labour rules, that would be another disciplinary offence.”

She also repeated a claim she has made previously that the Labour investigation is “fraudulent”.

In her contested letter she stated that Jewish, Irish and traveller communities have experienced “prejudice”, but added: “This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.”

Ms Abbott had added: “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism.”

Angela Rayner said on Thursday she would like to see Abbott back in the Labour Party (Reuters)

The investigation into Ms Abbott is ongoing, with Labour refusing to explain why it is taking so long or when it will be completed.

Supporters of Ms Abbott, who was elected MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, believe the probe is being used to force her out at the next election.

If her suspension remains in place when the election is called, Labour’s national executive committee will have to decide whether she can stand or to impose a new candidate.

Another shadow minister told The Independent Ms Abbott was being “stubborn” and that the party was “desperate to do a deal with her”.

The figure said the Labour leadership wants to bring her back into the parliamentary party as long as she agrees to “bow out gracefully” at the next general election, a compromise they believe will allow her to stand as a Labour MP “with her legacy intact”.

Ms Abbott has given no indication that she intends to stand down at the next election.

Pressure has been growing on Sir Keir Starmer to restore the whip after the alleged comments by the Tories’ biggest donor Frank Hester. Mr Hester, who is believed to have given the party £15m in the past year, said looking at Ms Abbott “makes you want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, a Guardian investigation found.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has dampened hopes of an imminent return to the party for Abbott (PA Wire)

Ms Rayner spoke out on Thursday in support of Ms Abbott, adding to calls from across the political spectrum: “Personally I would like to see Diane back. But the Labour Party has to follow its procedures… so it does not matter what I think.”

Ms Harman has called for the investigation into the suspension to be sped up, admitting that the processes can sometimes be slow, while former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and Tony Blair’s former political secretary John McTernan called for Sir Keir to restore the whip.

Ms Abbott told The Independent: "I cannot disclose details of this process because, under Labour rules, that would be another disciplinary offence. But your sources are wrong in key respects. Yet their claims also show that the investigation process is fraudulent. The Labour Party has used this sham in an effort to bully me."

She also implied on X/Twitter that she doesn’t think she will ever get the whip back, claiming Labour’s “real agenda” is to force her out.

On Thursday, Sir Keir would not be drawn on whether or not Ms Abbott, who currently sits as an independent, could expect to become a Labour MP again, saying only that the 10-month investigation into her alleged antisemitic remarks was “not resolved”.

The Labour leader said she was a trailblazer and described the language allegedly used by Mr Hester as “abhorrent”, but he told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine that allowing the MP back into the party was an “entirely different issue”.

“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.”

Labour did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment.

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