Keir Starmer says decision on Diane Abbott to come ‘in due course’

Sir Keir Starmer has said the row over Diane Abbott’s suspension will be resolved “in due course”, as he faced questions over a report that an investigation into her racism comments was completed five months ago.

Labour withdrew the whip from the long-standing MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in April 2023, after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experienced prejudice, but not racism.

BBC Newsnight reported that Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) had written to Ms Abbott in December 2023 to say it had concluded an inquiry into her comments.

Sir Keir on Tuesday again refused to say whether Ms Abbott, Britain’s first black woman MP, would be able to stand for the party in the General Election.

The Times shortly afterwards reported that the leadership had concluded she will not be allowed to stand under the Labour banner on July 4, although the party declined to confirm this.

Asked about the investigation finishing in December, the Labour leader told broadcasters: “The process overall is obviously a little longer than the fact-finding exercise.

“But in the end, this is a matter that will have to be resolved by the National Executive Committee and they’ll do that in due course.”

He added that the NEC “will come to a decision in due course”.

Sir Keir has previously said he could not get involved in the case, which would be resolved by June 4, when Labour’s final list of candidates is decided.

Starmer and Reeves
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves during a campaign visit to Rolls-Royce’s educational training facility in Derby (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

BBC Newsnight said the NEC issued her with a “formal warning” for “engaging in conduct that was, in the opinion of the NEC, prejudicial and grossly detrimental to the Labour Party”.

Ms Abbott was expected to take part in an online e-learning module, which she completed in February, something that Labour’s chief whip allegedly acknowledged by email.

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden said: “On Friday Sir Keir Starmer said that the investigation into Diane Abbott’s conduct was ongoing and ‘not resolved’.

“Now it has been confirmed the Labour investigation into Diane Abbott concluded five months ago and she has already been given a formal warning. It’s inconceivable that Starmer, the Labour Leader, wasn’t told the process had finished and a warning issued.

“No ifs, no buts, this isn’t another flip-flop or yet another policy U-turn. Sir Keir Starmer has blatantly lied to the British people and has serious questions to answer.”

Campaign group Momentum has said the Labour whip “should already have been restored”.

Ms Abbott was an independent MP when Parliament was prorogued on Friday, May 24, ahead of the General Election on July 4.

A Momentum spokesman said: “This is outrageous news which confirms that the (Keir) Starmer leadership is trying to force Britain’s first black woman MP out of Parliament.

“For months, we have been told by Keir Starmer that the process is independent and it’s nothing to do with him.

“Today’s revelation confirms this is another brazen lie from Keir Starmer – the investigation was concluded months ago, Diane remains a Labour member and the whip should already have been restored as a result.

“Starmer’s conduct has already been insulting and demeaning to a woman he rightly called a ‘trailblazer’ – the first step to making amends is to restore the whip and let Diane run as the Labour candidate, as local members wish.”

Ms Abbott, who has been an MP since 1987, has said the process “has EVERYTHING to do with” Sir Keir.

The veteran MP was suspended after she responded to an Observer article headlined: “Racism in Britain is not a black and white issue. It’s far more complicated.”

She wrote in a letter to the title: “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. In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus.”

Ms Abbott later said she wished to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them”.