Foreign Affairs Committee

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 3:26 pm on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Independent, Dudley North 3:26 pm, 19th March 2019

I will come on to that, but I will say this: I have been very clear about why I left the Labour party. I left after 35 years because I had become absolutely ashamed of the way in which the leader of the Labour party had allowed a culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance to develop—and for no other reason. Members have a choice to make this afternoon. They can choose to stand with someone who has campaigned against racism all their life, or stand with the leader of the Labour party in his vindictive attempt to boot people off a Committee simply because they stood up to racism. Frankly, I think it is outrageous.

I make one more point on my work on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I was one of the MPs who were a driving force behind the Magnitsky Act—legislation to take tough action against people responsible for gross abuses of human rights and large-scale corruption. I was one of the Committee members who instigated its current inquiry on UK sanctions policy.

As I mentioned, this debate is happening because the Labour party has decided that it wants to kick me off the Committee in retaliation for my decision to leave the Labour party. I want to set out the background to that and explain why I took that decision. I want Members to think about this and consider it when deciding how to vote.

The main reason why I decided to join the Labour party, 35 years ago as a teenager in Dudley, was to fight racism. I really cannot believe that after all this time, I have ended up leaving the Labour party because of racism. It was a difficult decision for me to take, but I have to be honest with people, and the truth is that I have become ashamed of the Labour party under its current leadership. I am appalled by the offence and distress that the leader of the Labour party has caused to Jewish people. It is terrible that a culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance is driving out not just Members of Parliament, but other members, too—decent people who have dedicated their whole lives to mainstream politics.

It is a matter of great shame that someone such as Luciana Berger has been bullied out of the Labour party by antisemites. It was wrong of the Labour party to threaten Dame Margaret Hodge and me with disciplinary action when we spoke out on antisemitism. It had to drop that, because we had done nothing wrong. The hard truth is that the Labour party under its current leadership is tougher on the people who complain about racism than on the racists.

The current leader and the people around him have turned what was a mainstream political party into something very different. He has spent his entire career working with, defending and supporting all sorts of extremists, and in some cases antisemites and terrorists. I thought from the very beginning—since before he was elected in 2015—that he would be utterly unfit to lead the Labour party, and he is completely unfit to be our country’s Prime Minister. He has said and done things that are clearly antisemitic, including defending that grotesque racist mural on a wall in east London. We need to ask ourselves what he would be saying if a senior member of the Conservative party had defended a grotesque mural that was racist against any other group of people. He called Jewish people Zionist, and said that they did not understand English irony—as if, somehow, they were different from the rest of us. He also calls Hamas and Hezbollah his friends.