Diane Abbott has Labour whip withdrawn after racism row following letter in the Observer
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MP Diane Abbott has had the whip suspended by the Labour party following remarks in which she suggested Jewish people do not face racism but ‘prejudice similar to redheads’.
In a letter to the Observer, Ms Abbott said she was responding to claims that “Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from ‘racism’”. “They undoubtedly experience prejudice,” Ms Abbott wrote.
“This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable. It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism.”
She added: “In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus. In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”
She wrote her response following an article which had the headline “Racism in Britain is not a black and white issue. It’s far more complicated” by Tomiwa Owolade.
Following the publication, Ms Abbott, who is the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, issued an apology, tweeting that she “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them”, saying the “errors” occurred when an initial draft was sent.
“But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused. Racism takes many forms and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, travellers and many others.
“Once again, I would like to apologise publicly for the remarks and any distress caused as a result of them.”
A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: “The Labour Party completely condemns these comments which are deeply offensive and wrong. The chief whip has suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the letter was “deeply offensive” and “deeply wrong”. Energy secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter: “Once again, Jewish people have to wake up and see a Labour MP casually spouting hateful anti-semitism. @Keir_Starmer are you actually going to do anything?”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said: “Diane Abbott‘s letter to the Observer was disgraceful and her apology is entirely unconvincing. We have written to Keir Starmer expressing our deep concern and asking for the whip to be removed.” And Labour Against Antisemitism said the letter was ‘simply unacceptable’.
The suspension of the whip means she will not be allowed to represent the party in the House of Commons and will be forced to sit as an independent MP.