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Pressure on Keir Starmer as Angela Rayner says she wants Diane Abbott back as Labour MP

Labour leader Keir Starmer is under growing pressure after his deputy Angela Rayner said she would like to see Diane Abbott back in the party.

Ms Rayner also condemned as “absolutely chilling” alleged comments by top Tory donor Frank Hester that Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she should be “shot”.

She said: “Personally I would like to see Diane back. But the Labour Party has to follow its procedures… so it does not matter what I think.”

Her comments came as Labour veteran Harriet Harman called for the investigation into Ms Abbott’s suspension to be sped up, admitting that the processes can sometimes be slow.

The comments expose a split at the very top of the Labour Party and will pile pressure on Sir Keir, who has so far resisted calls to restore the whip to Ms Abbott.

Earlier, Sir Keir said Ms Abbott, who has this week been at the centre of a Conservative Party race row, needed “an arm around her” but described her suspension as a “completely different” issue and one that was “subject to an ongoing investigation”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said she wanted to see Diane Abbott back as a Labour MP (Henry Nicholls/PA)
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said she wanted to see Diane Abbott back as a Labour MP (Henry Nicholls/PA)

The longtime MP was suspended from Labour last year after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to the same racism as some other minorities.

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet alongside Ms Rayner, apologised “unreservedly”.

But Sir Keir would not be drawn on whether or not Ms Abbott, who currently sits as an independent, could expect to become a Labour MP again, saying the 11-month investigation into her alleged antisemitic remarks was “not resolved”.

The Labour leader said the longest-serving black MP was a “trailblazer” and described the language allegedly used by Mr Hester as “abhorrent”.

But he told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine that allowing the MP back into the party was an “entirely different issue”.

He added: “That was about allegations of antisemitism in relation to a letter… which is subject to an ongoing investigation, which is separate from me. That’s not something which I conduct.”

Ms Rayner said she sometimes felt “frustration” over how long processes can take, but added: “In (some) instances there are sensitive reasons for that.”

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said she was also frustrated with how long the investigation into Ms Abbott was taking. She said it was an independent process in which she had no direct role, but she told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that: “I think everybody wants to see that speeded up.”

Diane Abbott pictured with Rayner while in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet (PA)
Diane Abbott pictured with Rayner while in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet (PA)

The comments come a day after Ms Abbott hit out at the Conservatives and Labour, accusing both parties of “shocking” racism in the Tory donor scandal.

Rishi Sunak has refused to hand back a £10m donation from Mr Hester, a wealthy businessman.

The prime minister has defended keeping the cash and argued that the healthcare tech entrepreneur’s apology should be accepted.

Speaking at a lunch with Westminster, Ms Rayner also said major Labour donor Dale Vince should “reflect” on his “appalling” remarks about Hamas.

He told Times Radio last year that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” when asked about the Palestinian militant group that carried out the 7 October attacks, in which 1,200 people were killed.

At an event in Westminster, Ms Rayner was asked if she thought the comments had been appropriate. She said: “In that context, I think it is appalling and I don’t think he should have said it.

“And I think he should reflect on that. Language is important.”