Tom Watson: Luciana Berger leaving Labour over antisemitism was ‘worst day of shame in party’s 120-year history’

Remarks from Labour’s deputy leader follow the suspension of Chris Williamson from party’s ranks amid antisemitism row

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 28 February 2019 10:55 GMT
Tom Watson: Luciana Berger leaving Labour was 'worst day of shame in Labour's 120-year history'

Tom Watson has claimed Luciana Berger’s decision quit his party last week was the “worst day of shame” in Labour’s 120-year history, as he failed to say whether Jeremy Corbyn is “fit” to be prime minister.

The remarks from Labour’s deputy leader follow the suspension of the MP Chris Williamson on Wednesday, after a video emerged of him claiming the party had been “too apologetic” over antisemitism accusations.

The left-wing MP’s comments provoked a furious backlash from antisemitism campaigners and his colleagues in the Labour Party, and led to Mr Watson himself clashing with the leader’s office and publicly calling for the suspension of Mr Williamson.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Watson said he would be meeting with the Labour leader on Monday next week to discuss how the party can “further improve measures to deal with antisemitism”.

Referring to the decision of a former Labour MP to quit the party last week – claiming it was “institutionally antisemitic” – Mr Watson said: “When Luciana Berger left the Labour Party, I thought it was the worst day of shame in the Labour Party’s 120-year history. A pregnant young MP bullied out of her own party by racist thugs.”

Pressed on the programme whether Mr Corbyn was “fit” to be prime minister after the party’s handling of antisemitism in its ranks, Mr Watson replied: “He could easily be prime minister.

“But, of course, we could do without the antisemitism because it allows you to ask me that question on the Today programme. We need to close these issues down and we do it by being absolutely vigilant in the way we deal with racism in our ranks. That’s on all us.”

Mr Watson’s comments also follow accusations the Labour leader’s office directly intervened to prevent Mr Williamson being suspended. “This decision was taken off Nick Brown [chief whip] and taken by the general secretary and the leader’s office,” one shadow cabinet source told The Independent.

“They hide behind process but these decisions are always taken by the leader’s office.”

But asked about the claims, Mr Watson replied: “I can’t confirm that. I’ve no idea who said what in Jeremy’s office. I honestly don’t know that.

“I’ve asked to see Jeremy on Monday next week to talk about how we can further improve our measures to deal with antisemitism.”

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