A senior Labour MP has used his exit from the Commons to criticise Jeremy Corbyn’s record as leader and blame the party’s current antisemitism crisis on him. John Mann is set to stand down after 18 years in parliament to take up the full-time post as the government’s antisemitism tsar.
He said he could not campaign for Corbyn knowing that he could become prime minister, and told the Sunday Times he would “never forgive” his leftwing leader for allowing the party to be “hijacked” by antisemites.
Labour has ejected several high-profile figures from the party, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone and MP Chris Williamson, after claims of antisemitism were lodged against them.
Luciana Berger, who quit the party in February following sustained abuse and this week joined the Liberal Democrats, claimed that Labour had become “institutionally antisemitic” since Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015. There have also been criticisms that Labour has been too slow to carry out investigations into complaints of antisemitism.
Mann has reignited the debate after launching a tirade against Corbyn in his parting shots. The 59-year-old, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, told the Sunday Times: “Corbyn has given the green light to the antisemites and, having done so, has sat there and done nothing to turn that round.
“Every time I go into a meeting with a group of Jewish people, I wince when they raise the issue of the Labour party and Corbyn. It is impossible to overstate the anger that I have about that. He has not just hijacked my political party – he has hijacked its soul and its ethics. I will never forgive him for that.”
The Eurosceptic, who voted against opposition moves to block a no-deal Brexit on Tuesday, said he was “not prepared to lie” to voters, having admitted encouraging support for the party in the 2017 general election on the proviso that Corbyn was unlikely to win.
“I can’t do that this time and I’m not prepared to lie to my voters. And neither am I prepared to tell them that Corbyn is appropriate to be prime minister. Because I don’t think he is,” he said.
Theresa May appointed Mann her adviser on tackling antisemitism in one of her last acts as prime minister, but Boris Johnson has since upgraded the role, leading to Mann opting to quit the Commons to focus all his efforts there.
Mann said: “The Jewish community is the canary in the cage for the health of everybody else and society. That has been the case throughout history. I have no fear in challenging antisemitism wherever it needs challenging, and will introduce effective systems to do that.”
The Labour party has yet to respond to Mann’s criticisms.
Later in the day, former Labour MP Angela Smith revealed that she had joined the Liberal Democrats after three months of sitting as an independent MP. The Sunday Times reported that the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge joined the Lib Dems due to extremist elements in both Labour and the Conservative parties.
Smith becomes the third MP to join the party in a week, bringing their total in the House of Commons to 17.
In a blog post for the party published on Saturday, she called for more inclusive and tolerant politics as well as more concerted action against Brexit. She wrote: “Our country deserves better than this. At a time of national crisis, people deserve a better choice than the two old parties.
“I am therefore delighted to be joining Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats are the strongest party to stop Brexit and build a society that gives opportunities to everyone, tackles the climate crisis and invests in our public.”
She was welcomed by Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, who tweeted: “Welcome Angela Smith to the Lib Dems. She’s the sixth new MP to join us in the last three months, along with over 30,000 new members. Together we can stop Brexit.”
Smith follows Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger in joining the Liberal Democrats from the Change UK group, which was formed in February.