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Jeremy Corbyn warned more MPs could resign over antisemitism

Sky News logo Sky News 19/02/2019

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Jeremy Corbyn has been warned more Labour MPs will resign unless he gets a grip of the antisemitism problem within the party.

Labour chairman Ian Lavery faced an angry backlash at a "heated" meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday, after seven MPs quit in protest against Mr Corbyn's leadership.

Party sources said Mr Lavery stressed the leadership's commitment to rooting out antisemitism at the behind-closed-doors gathering in Westminster.

Jeremy Corbyn wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Jeremy Corbyn has been warned more MPs could resign from the Labour Party © Getty Jeremy Corbyn has been warned more MPs could resign from the Labour Party His claims are said to have been greeted with derision by some of those present, as he faced accusations he had failed to understand the "enormity" of the problem.

Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey said they would be sitting as a new Independent Group in the Commons and urged MPs - from Labour and other parties - to join them.

The MPs had condemned Mr Corbyn's stance on Brexit as well as his handling of the antisemitism issue.

Their departure from Labour is potentially the most significant split in British politics for a generation.

Chuka Umunna et al. posing for a photo: Seven Labour MPs announced their resignation © PA Seven Labour MPs announced their resignation Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called on the MPs to do "the honourable thing" and stand down from parliament to contest by-elections.

But a number of MPs turned their fire on the leadership at the PLP meeting, after Ms Berger, who is Jewish, told a press conference she was ashamed to be a member of a party which was "institutionally antisemitic".

LONDON -  FEBRUARY 17:   (NO SALE/NO ARCHIVE) In this handout image provided by the BBC,  Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell appears on The Andrew Marr Show on February 17, 2019 in London, England.  (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images)

Warning: Use of this copyright image is subject to Terms of Use of BBC Digital Picture Service.  In particular, this image may only be used during the publicity period for the purpose of publicising 'Andrew Marr Show' and provided the BBC is credited. © 2019 BBC Picture Publicity LONDON - FEBRUARY 17: (NO SALE/NO ARCHIVE) In this handout image provided by the BBC, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell appears on The Andrew Marr Show on February 17, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC via Getty Images) Warning: Use of this copyright image is subject to Terms of Use of BBC Digital Picture Service. In particular, this image may only be used during the publicity period for the purpose of publicising 'Andrew Marr Show' and provided the BBC is credited. Mr Lavery was said to have have expressed anger at the claim, saying that if the party was antisemitic he would not be a member.

But he was challenged by other MPs who said he showed no understanding of the scale of the problem.

Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth said in an emotional intervention that she and Louise Ellman, another Jewish MP, had been told by a party member they did not have "human blood".

They added that no action had been taken against the individual concerned.

Ms Ellman said afterwards: "It was appalling.

a group of people standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Ian Lavery has been told has doesn't understand the 'enormity' of the party's anti-Semitism problem © Getty Ian Lavery has been told has doesn't understand the 'enormity' of the party's anti-Semitism problem "He (Mr Lavery) showed no understanding of the enormity of what is going on."

Ian Austin, a long-standing critic of Mr Corbyn's leadership, said Mr Lavery's performance had only made the situation worse.

He said: "The party has got to show it is tackling antisemitism.

"I don't think he came close to demonstrating the leadership understand the scale of the problem we have.

"I think it will result in people thinking long and hard about their position in the party."

Video: Seven Labour MPs quit party (The Guardian)

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Another MP left the meeting saying: "It was a complete and utter waste of time - a dialogue of the deaf."

A party source said Mr Lavery had spelt out the measures being taken to deal with the "appalling abuse".

The source said: "Ian Lavery spoke about the party's traditions as a broad church, in which there is a wide range of opinions, but we work together to build a brighter future for millions of people and transform our society.

"He made clear the party's absolute determination to root out antisemitism and the work that is being done to improve procedures to tackle this appalling abuse."

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson - who has been critical in the past of efforts to deal with antisemitism in the party - had said earlier he feared there could be further resignations.

REFILE - CORRECTING DATE  Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stands next to deputy leader Tom Watson after delivering his speech at the party's conference in Liverpool, Britain, September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY © Thomson Reuters REFILE - CORRECTING DATE Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stands next to deputy leader Tom Watson after delivering his speech at the party's conference in Liverpool, Britain, September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY He said: "I confess I feared this day would come.

"And I fear now that unless we change, we may see more days like this."

He called on Mr Corbyn to reshuffle his frontbench team so it better reflected the balance of opinion in the PLP where many MPs reject the leader's left-wing agenda.

Hours after the resignations, former hard left politician Derek "Degsy" Hatton told Sky News he has been readmitted to the Labour Party.

The 71-year-old, a member of the Militant tendency that infiltrated Labour in the 1970s and 1980s, was expelled from the party in 1986 after being found in breach of their rules.

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