Jeremy Corbyn today faced growing calls to act against a close ally who claimed the party had been “too apologetic” in its response to allegations of anti-Semitism.
The dismissive comment by left-wing MP Chris Williamson triggered a torrent of anger from party grandees.
Former leader Ed Miliband said they brought Labour “into disrepute” while deputy leader Tom Watson said Mr Williamson should be suspended.
But despite calls for suspension or expulsion from at least a dozen MPs and senior figures, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan and a trade union leader, there was no immediate announcement of tough action from Mr Corbyn against the MP.
Mr Williamson said he deeply regretted his words and apologised.
The Derby North MP and Corbyn ally sparked controversy when he was filmed making the remarks at an event hosted by the Corbynite supporters’ group Momentum.
He was applauded by audience of activists in Sheffield when he played down the crisis caused by anti-Semitic attacks by Labour supporters on Jewish MPs and members.
The MP claimed the Labour Party was being “demonised as a racist party” and had “given too much ground” to its critics.
A Labour spokesman said: “These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate and fall below the standards we expect of MPs.
“Downplaying the problem of anti-Semitism makes it harder for us to tackle it. Chris Williamson should apologise immediately and withdraw his remarks.”
Mr Watson, who has vowed to personally monitor anti-Semitism complaints – which some have seen as a challenge to Mr Corbyn’s handling of the ongoing anti-Semitism crisis – today called for his suspension.
Mr Khan said “there were grounds” for him to have the whip withdrawn.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live today: “I think the evidence I’ve seen – and I make that caveat – is that there are grounds for suspension, absolutely.”
Mr Miliband tweeted: “This is a test of seriousness on our part about the whole issue. Disciplinary action, not simply an apology, is required.”
MB union boss Tim Roache also said it was “time for him to go”.
At the Sheffield event Mr Williamson also said he had responded to the resignations of nine Labour MPs, in part over the party’s handling of anti-Semitism within its ranks, by singing Kool And The Gang’s 1980 hit Celebration.
In a separate incident to enrage MPs, the left-winger was last night ordered to cancel a Commons event featuring a Labour activist suspended over anti-Semitism.
He is understood to have booked a room for the screening of a documentary about Jackie Walker, who is awaiting a disciplinary hearing, called Witchhunt.
Labour chief whip Nick Brown and the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby are said to have asked him to cancel the booking immediately.
Labour MP John Mann told the Evening Standard today: “Chris Williamson should be expelled for his continuous baiting of the Jewish community.”
Wes Streeting MP and vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-Semitism, said: “The whip should be withdrawn immediately.”
Ruth Smeeth MP has lodged an official complaint about Mr Williamson’s conduct which is believed to be on the grounds of him bringing the party into disrepute.
It is believed the whips office consider his behaviour to be “completely unacceptable”.
Earlier this month Mr Corbyn defended Mr Williamson, describing him as a good MP, an anti-racist and “not anti-Semitic in any way”.
Mr Williamson, 62, was forced to apologise in 2018 after sharing a petition calling for Islington Council to reverse their ban on allowing jazz artist Gilad Atzmon – an alleged anti-Semite – to perform.
He also organised a series of “democracy roadshows” with union boss Tosh McDonald in the summer targeting Labour colleagues seats.
He spoke to grassroots members about how they could deselect their MP.
Dame Margaret Hodge, who has been highly critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism, said today Mr Williamson should be suspended.
He said: “Williamson’s comments in Sheffield are just another example of his anti-Semitism denial. He’s repeatedly given a platform to anti-Semitic speakers and supported their cause. “Zero tolerance approach means Williamson must be suspended/whip removed, nothing less will do.”
Jewish MP Louise Ellman said he should be suspended immediately as did frontbencher Nia Griffiths.
On Twitter, Mr Williamson posted a “personal message and sincere apology from me regarding my recent remarks on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”
He said Labout was “an anti-racist party” and added: “On a personal level, I have been an anti-racist all my life. As a former member of the Anti-Nazi League, I participated in direct action to confront foul anti-Semites in the streets. I reject racism ethically and morally. It has no place in the Labour Party or in our country.
“It pains me greatly, therefore, that anyone should believe that it is my intention to minimise the cancerous and pernicious nature of anti-Semitism.
I deeply regret, and apologise for, my recent choice of words when speaking about how the Labour Party has responded to the ongoing fight against anti-Semitism inside of our party. I was trying to stress how much the party has done to tackle anti-Semitism.
“Our movement can never be “too apologetic” about racism within our ranks. Whilst it is true that there have been very few cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party – something I believe is often forgotten when discussing this issue – it is also true that those few are too many.”