Diane Abbot’s claim that Jews do not suffer racism was antisemitic, Sir Keir Starmer has said.
The Labour leader refused to comment on whether she would be allowed to run for Labour at the next election, however, in his first public comments on the veteran MP’s comparison between anti-Jewish bigotry and the discrimination people with red hair face.
Asked several times if Abbot’s comments were antisemitic, Sir Keir said: “In my view what she wrote was to be condemned, it was antisemitic. It is absolutely right that we acted as swiftly as we did.”
He added: “I said we would tear out antisemitism out by its roots and I meant it.
“That's why we acted so swiftly yesterday. I think it's a mark of how far the Labour party has changed that we acted so swiftly and we take it so seriously, but I condemn what she said.”
Asked if “zero tolerance” to antisemitism meant the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP could not run again for the party, he said: "As you know there's an investigation going on... there's an investigation going on at the moment, that's the right thing.
“The whip has been suspended, that was done very, very swiftly, and I have condemned what she said, along with many other people."
Sir Keir was “disappointed,” to be talking about antisemitism within the Labour party instead of economic issues.
“We should be talking about the cost of living today,” he said.
Abbot has been widely condemned for a letter published in the Observer in which she played down the racism faced by Jews, the Gypsy and Roma community, and the Irish.
Responding to an article about racism in Britain, she wrote: "[writer] Tomiwa Owolade claims that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from 'racism'... They undoubtedly experience prejudice. 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."
Abbot subsequently apologised and claimed the "errors" in her letter were caused by an initial draft being sent to the Observer.
In a statement published to Twitter, she wrote: "I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them...
“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."
The Board of Deputies called the letter "disgraceful" and said Abbott's apology was "entirely unconvincing".
Dave Rich, policy director of the CST, said: "While it is welcome that Diane Abbott has withdrawn her appalling denial of the reality of anti-Jewish racism, the harm caused by her views will be much more widespread and it is right that the Labour Party have suspended the whip.
Speaking today, shadow chief secretary to the treasury Pat McFadden said Sir Keir is “determined to turn the page on some of the culture that had been in the Labour Party before he became leader.”
He said: “I have been saying for some time that the Labour Party needed to change from the period before when Sir Keir Starmer became leader; if anything, yesterday's events underline that need for change.
“When we elected a new leader three years ago, it wasn't just a matter of having a new person in a different suit with the same worldview, culture and policies – all of that had to change. Yesterday's events really reinforce the need and the extent of that change.”