Andy McDonald has Labour whip restored after ‘river to the sea’ remark inquiry

Andy McDonald has had the Labour whip restored after an internal investigation into remarks he made at a pro-Palestine rally found he had not breached party rules.

The MP for Middlesbrough was suspended from the party in October last year after using the phrase “between the river and the sea” in a speech during a demonstration.

A Labour spokesman said: “The investigation concluded that he had not engaged in conduct that was against the party’s rulebook but reminded him of the importance of elected representatives being mindful, not only of what they say in public, but how their words may be interpreted, especially in reference to controversial or emotive issues.

“The Chief Whip met with Andy following the outcome of the investigation and received assurances that he understands the need to be mindful and about his future conduct.”

In a statement, Mr McDonald said it was “never my intention” to use language that would cause anyone distress and that he “bitterly regret(s)” the “pain and hurt caused”.

“Accordingly, I will not use that phrasing again,” he said.

“I will continue to denounce the abominations of antisemitism and Islamophobia wherever they raise their ugly heads. These are key reasons why I joined the Labour Party 45 years ago,” he said.

“I am now glad that I am able to focus all my efforts and energies on campaigning to secure the Labour Government that our country so desperately needs.”

Labour had last year described his remark as “deeply offensive”.

Critics of a chant that contains the phrase argue that it implicitly calls for the destruction of Israel.

But Mr McDonald, who had been sitting as an Independent while the investigation took place, previously said the reference was part of a “heartfelt plea” for peace in the Middle East.

He is among a series of MPs and parliamentary candidates to have been stripped of party support over remarks made in relation to the Israel-Hamas war.

Kate Osamor had the whip withdrawn in January after she appeared to say the Gaza war should be remembered as genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day, before apologising for her comments.

Rochdale by-election
Labour withdrew its backing for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after his alleged remarks about the Israel-Hamas war (Peter Byrne/PA)

Labour also withdrew its backing for its former Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali, after he allegedly suggested Israel used Hamas’s October 7 attack as a pretext to invade Gaza and blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for Mr McDonald’s suspension.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer drew criticism for initially standing by the aspiring MP after he apologised for his comments about the conflict in the Middle East.

He later said he had taken “tough and decisive” action in response to the reported remarks about “Jewish quarters” and promised the party had “changed” since the Jeremy Corbyn era, which was often overshadowed by controversies surrounding the handling of antisemitism allegations.

Labour later removed its backing for Graham Jones, its candidate for Hyndburn, after it was reported that he had used the words “f****** Israel” at the same meeting attended by Mr Ali.