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Labour MPs withdraw from anti-Nato statement after threat to lose whip

A party spokesperson said all their MPs now understood ‘whose side Labour is on’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
,Geraldine Scott
Friday 25 February 2022 10:14 GMT
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(PA)

A group of 11 left-wing Labour MPs who signed a statement criticising Nato have withdrawn their names, the party has confirmed.

It comes after the MPs, including senior figures and former shadow ministers John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, were threatened with the removal of the whip if their names were not taken off Stop The War Coalition letter.

The organisation — initially launched to oppose US military action in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks — says it stands against what it describes as Britain’s “disastrous addiction to war”.

But it has repeatedly come under fire for alleged anti-Western sentiments. In the statement issued earlier this month on Ukraine, the group accused the British government of “aggressive posturing”, “sabre-rattling” and said that Nato “should call a halt to its eastward expansion”.

It appeared on 18 February and before Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of the Eastern European country by land, air and sea, with people forced to flee underground as major cities witnessed air strikes.

It was initially signed by former shadow ministers under Jeremy Corbyn, including Ms Abbott, Mr McDonnell, Richard Burgon, and Ian Lavery. Other signatories included Beth Winter, Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Apsana Begum, Mick Whitley, Tahir Ali, and Ian Mearns.

Mr Corbyn, the former Labour leader and former chairman of the coalition, had also signed the letter, as did MP Claudia Webbe, both of whom now sit as independents.

Around an hour after it being reported, the shadow chief whip had written to the 11 MPs, and all their names had been withdrawn from the statement.

A Labour spokesperson told The Independent: “The small number of Labour MPs that signed the Stop The War statement have all now withdrawn their names.”

They added: “This shows Labour is under new management. With Keir Starmer’s leadership there will never be any confusion about whose side Labour is on — Britain, Nato, freedom and democracy — and every Labour MP now understands that”.

Earlier this month, Sir Keir wrote in The Guardian that Stop The War activists were not “benign voices for peace”.

Russian forces’ movements since the invasion began (Press Association Images)

“At best they are naive, at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies. There is nothing progressive in showing solidarity with the aggressor when our allies need our solidarity and – crucially – our practical assistance now more than ever,” he said.

Andrew Scattergood, co-chairman of left-wing campaign group Momentum, said: “These MPs’ steadfast commitment to the Ukrainian people and against Russia’s invasion is beyond question.

“Indeed, many of them have led the criticism of Putin’s act of aggression today, forcefully and without reservation.

“It beggars belief that the Labour leadership instead focuses on a week-old statement in an attempt to wage factional warfare against them, while a real war wages on against the Ukrainian people.”

Mr McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, who removed his name from the letter, posted on Twitter: “This is not the time for focusing on events in the Labour Party. Our focus should be on supporting and showing solidarity with the people of Ukraine & these courageous Russians demonstrating for peace.”

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