Labour MP 'agonising every day' over whether to quit party amid latest Corbyn antisemitism row

'Something has to change in the party or everyone has to make their own position about where they stand'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 25 August 2018 18:44 BST
Corbyn: Some Zionists 'don't understand English irony'

A senior Labour MP says he is “agonising every day” over whether to quit the party after the latest antisemitism row engulfing Jeremy Corbyn.

Mike Gapes described the party as “a horrible place to be” in the wake of the Labour leader being filmed claiming that Zionists in Britain “don’t understand English irony”.

“It is painful. It is a horrible place to be and it can’t go on,” said the former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

And, hinting he was ready to walk out, Mr Gapes added: “Something has to change in the party or everyone has to make their own position, about where they stand. I am agonising with this every day.”

However, he refused to comment on a report that he had told fellow Labour MPs “it’s over for me” – implying that his resignation was certain.

Mr Gapes would be the second Corbyn critic to walk out of the parliamentary party, after John Woodcock, a former aide to Gordon Brown, announced he would sit as an independent MP last month.

Up to a dozen Labour MPs are thought to be contemplating breaking away, prompting warnings from Corbyn loyalists that a split would make it easier for the Tories to cling onto power.

One Labour MP tipped to lead any breakaway, Chuka Umunna, has dismissed claims that the People’s Vote campaign for a fresh Brexit referendum is a smokescreen for the creation of a new centrist party.

Mr Gapes’ comments follow the widespread criticism of Mr Corbyn’s remarks at a pro-Palestinian event five years ago.

The Labour leader criticised “Zionists” who “don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either”.

Some Labour MPs reacted with horror while a leading Jewish charity accused Mr Corbyn of “unambiguous antisemitic hate” and Conservative MPs reported him to the parliamentary standards watchdog.

Mr Corbyn has defended his comments, insisting that he was referring to a specific group of “pro-Israel activists” and had not used the term Zionist as a “euphemism” for Jewish people.

In a statement, he claimed he was “now more careful with how I might use the term ‘Zionist’ because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews”.

Mr Gapes, the MP for Ilford South, in northeast London, responded to Mr Corbyn’s video in a post in a Labour grouping on the WhatsApp messaging service, apparently saying a personal “red line” had been crossed.

The MP declined to comment on what he called a “leak”, but told The Independent: “I agonise every day about the state of our party.”

Mr Umunna, meanwhile, the MP for Streatham in south London, said “people from all parties and people of no affiliation at all” were campaigning together for a further referendum.

“The idea that the People’s Vote campaign is a precursor to a new party is complete and utter bollocks,” he said. “Frankly, people need to stop spreading false news about this.”

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