'JEREMY CORBYN ACCUSED OF "WITCH-HUNT" AS EX-LABOUR MPs [ARE] REMOVED FROM COMMITTEE POSTS'
By Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent
Sky News – 19 March 2019
Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of a "witch-hunt", after two senior MPs who have quit the Labour Party were removed from a powerful Commons committee. A Labour motion to replace Ian Austin and Mike Gapes – who left the party last month – on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee was approved in the Commons by 199 votes to 134 – a majority of 65. But there was anger among the pair's supporters in all parties over Mr Corbyn's decision to impose a three-line whip and in the vote 11 Labour MPs defied the Labour leader's orders. Labour defended the move, saying it was right to "give a voice to Labour voters in parliament".
After the result Mr Austin tweeted:
"I'm very grateful to those MPs from all parties who voted to keep me on the committee and I don't think Labour MPs will look back with pride on voting for Jeremy Corbyn's vindictive motion to kick me off because I stood up to racism. That the Labour Party abstain on votes to ban Hezbollah but impose a three-line whip to vote against me tells you all you need to know about what has happened under Jeremy Corbyn."
Mr Gapes tweeted:
"So despite the unanimous support of my @CommonsForeign colleagues I have been purged by a vote of the House ... This is a sad day for the independence of select committees."
Before leaving Labour, Mr Austin and Mr Gapes were among Mr Corbyn's fiercest critics, particularly on antisemitism. Mr Gapes, MP for Ilford South, has joined The Independent Group (TIG) of MPs, while Mr Austin, MP for Dudley North, sits as an independent. Speaking during the debate, Mr Austin, a former Downing Street spin doctor for Gordon Brown, told MPs he was ashamed of the way Mr Corbyn had allowed a "culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance to develop".
The MPs received support from some Labour former colleagues. There were shouts of "shame" as Siobhain McDonagh – tipped to join The Independent Group shortly – read a text from her whips ordering a three-line whip. Later, Ms McDonagh told MPs:
"We all know this measure is a vindictive measure and it shames our whips... to be involved in this manoeuvre today."
Ex-Labour MP Joan Ryan, now a TIG member, said:
"There does appear to be a personal element to this, because the only names being removed are those members who declared their independence just a few weeks ago."
But there was also strong support from Tory MPs for the axed Labour pair, who are being replaced by Conor McGinn and Catherine West.
Conservative Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Committee, described the motion as a "witch hunt". Simon Hoare branded the move "one of the most mealy-mouthed, vindictive and small-minded motions" and claimed it was because they refused to be silenced on antisemitism.
The Labour rebels voting in support of Mr Austin and Mr Gapes were: Adrian Bailey, Sir Kevin Barron, Ann Clwyd, Dame Margaret Hodge, Dame Louise Ellman, Paul Farrelly, Siobhain McDonagh, Jim Fitzpatrick, Ian Murray, Stephen McCabe and Wes Streeting. Chris Bryant and David Lammy abstained by voting in both the Aye and No lobby.
A Labour Party spokesperson said:
"Select committee and delegation places are allocated on the basis of the size of parties at the general election. It's only right that the Labour Party fills it's allocation – just as every other party does – and gives a voice to Labour voters in parliament."
Labour says it has no plans to try to oust former Labour MP Luciana Berger, who is on maternity leave, from the health select committee.