Frank Field quits Labour whip over anti-Semitism row

Frank Field, a former Labour minister, has quit the parliamentary party and will sit as an “Independent Labour” MP in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The move is likely to prompt fears among Mr Corbyn’s team that other MPs could soon follow suit and resign the UK opposition party’s whip.

Mr Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, announced that he had quit because he believed the Labour leadership had become “a force for anti-Semitism” in British politics. “It saddens me to say that we are increasingly seen as a racist party,” he wrote in a resignation letter to Nick Brown, the chief whip.

Mr Field also spoke out against the “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in many parts of the party nationally.

“It is sadly manifest within my own constituency Labour party in Birkenhead,” he wrote. “This I fear is just one example of a phenomenon that has tightened its grip on CLPs across the country and is being driven, in part, by members who in previous years would never have been able to claim Labour party membership.”

A Labour spokesperson said Mr Corbyn “thanks Frank Field for his service to the Labour party”.

But Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, described Mr Field’s decision as a “serious loss to the party”.

“It reflects both the deep divisions in the party and the sense of drift engulfing us,” he said. “It is a major wake-up call. We cannot afford to lose people of such weight and stature.”

Mr Field is a maverick MP, having been one of just a handful to openly support Brexit in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum — prompting anger among some of his constituency members. Last month his constituency party passed a motion of no confidence in him after he supported the government in a knife-edge Brexit vote.

Mr Field served as a welfare minister from 1997 to 1998 at the start of the Tony Blair government.

He said that he would continue as MP for Birkenhead, Merseyside, where he was first elected 40 years ago, and would remain a party member.

He also hinted that he could re-apply for the whip if there were “great changes” in the leadership’s stance on the issues he outlined.

Mr Field has fought a deselection battle before. The far-left Militant Tendency in the early 1980s tried unsuccessfully to force him out. Some members of the movement who had been expelled from the Labour party have rejoined since Mr Corbyn became leader.

Mike Gapes, another backbencher, said last week he was “agonising every day” over whether to quit the party after the latest anti-Semitism row engulfing Mr Corbyn. “It’s a horrible place to be and it can’t go on,” Mr Gapes said.

The leader was filmed claiming that Zionists in Britain “don’t understand English irony”, prompting more criticism — although he has since said that he used the phrase “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people”.

John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, walked out of the parliamentary party a month ago, although his action was not motivated by the anti-Semitism row. He said he would continue as an independent MP.

Mr Field’s departure will worry the Corbyn leadership less than persistent rumours about plans for a breakaway Europhile centrist party.

Many Labour MPs are considering their options because they fear that leftwingers will successfully change the rules to make it easier to deselect MPs.

Groups pushing for mandatory reselection at the autumn conference include Momentum, the pro-Corbyn pressure group, and Labour International, which represents members abroad.


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