Second Labour MP faces disciplinary action amid row over antisemitism

Ian Austin faces a probe for 'abusive conduct' after clash with party leadership

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 29 July 2018 18:01 BST

A Labour MP has accused Jeremy Corbyn of "supporting and defending" antisemites after he was told he faced disciplinary action over a row on the party's stance on anti-Jewish sentiment.

Ian Austin, a former minister who lost family members in the Holocaust, was sent a letter from Labour bosses saying he was being investigated for “abusive conduct” in parliament, which could result in suspension from the party.

The row stems from a "heated discussion" between the Dudley MP and Labour chairman Ian Lavery on the party's new code of conduct, which has prompted a major backlash in the Jewish community.

It comes after a similar probe was launched into comments by senior Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who called Jeremy Corbyn a “racist and an antisemite” in an angry outburst over the party’s attitude to anti-Jewish sentiment.

Labour has become embroiled in a bitter row over changes to its party rulebook, which centre on whether it should adopt in full an internationally recognised definition of antisemitism.

The party faced a criticism from Jewish leaders when its national executive committee (NEC) voted to adopt a code that did not directly include four of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) 11 examples of antisemitic behaviour.

Party officials insist these examples are covered elsewhere in the document, which “expands and contextualises” the definition.

Mr Austin, a vocal critic of the Labour leader, said the party had become "more extreme" during Mr Corbyn's tenure and accused him of "supporting and defending" antisemites.

He denied "screaming abuse" but told the BBC's The World this Weekend said: "I said that I thought the NEC's decision was a disgrace.

"Am I upset about antisemitism? Yes I am. I am upset about that and I'm upset as well about the leadership's failure, I think refusal really, to deal with this properly.

"I grew up listening to my dad tell me how he'd escaped from the Holocaust and how his mum and sisters were murdered in Treblinka [the concentration camp] and that led to me joining the Labour Party as a teenager determined to fight racism.

"I'm really shocked that a party that has got a proud tradition throughout its entire existence of fighting racism has ended up causing such huge offence and distress to the Jewish community in Britain."

Mr Austin rejected suggestions that he was motivated by his opposition to Mr Corbyn, adding: "He was never my choice to lead the Labour party that's true, but what do people think? That I'm so worried about his plans to nationalise the railways or something that I would invent all this stuff?

"It's actually the other way around. It's because he has spent his entire time in politics on the extreme fringes of the Labour Party, supporting and defending all sorts of extremists and in some cases frankly, antisemites."

Mr Austin reportedly received a letter from general secretary Jennie Formby earlier this month, which said: “You should be aware that any future behaviour of a similar nature to the allegation above could result in further disciplinary action, including the possibility of administrative suspension while the matter is investigated.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously. These are fully investigated in line with party rules and procedures.”

Meanwhile, party bosses are locked in a legal battle with Dame Margaret, whose lawyers say the probe is “a veiled attempt to silence her”.

The Jewish MP, who also lost relatives in the Holocaust, has suggested Mr Corbyn does not want “people like me” in the party.

The decision on the antisemitism code led the country’s three most prominent Jewish newspapers to join forces to warn that a Labour government would pose “an existential threat to Jewish life in this country”.

It also prompted Jewish MPs Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth to table an emergency motion to the parliamentary Labour party, demanding that the IHRA definition be adopted in full.

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