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19 February 2019

Joan Ryan becomes eighth MP to quit Labour for Independent Group

The Enfield North MP accuses Jeremy Corbyn of “presiding over a culture of anti-semitism and hatred of Israel”.

By Patrick Maguire

Joan Ryan has become the eighth MP to quit Labour for the Independent Group, attacking Jeremy Corbyn for “presiding over a culture of anti-semitism and hatred of Israel”. 

The MP for Enfield North, who was first elected in 1997 and has been a Labour member since 1983, told The Times that her resignation was a “duty” and said she could not tell her constituents to vote for Corbyn as prime minister. Ryan is also the fourth MP to quit the party after losing a no-confidence vote of local Labour members.

Directly blaming her former leader for the party’s breakdown in relations with the Jewish community, she admitted she found it “hard” to say Corbyn was not himself an anti-Semite and said she had resolved to quit upon seeing Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, announce her resignation yesterday.

“I wasn’t elected as a Labour MP to watch this happen, and I have no choice to stand up to it,” she said. “For me this is a moral issue.”

Asked whether Corbyn was guilty of anti-Semitism, Ryan said: “I find it hard to say he isn’t. I don’t want to say what’s in somebody’s heart. But I’ve long said if he wanted to prove he wasn’t then his actions could have done that for him, and he hasn’t done that. 

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“And I’m surprised that he wonders when people think he is. But I think the bigger point is that he’s allowed the Labour Party to become institutionally anti-Semitic, and he has a direct responsibility as leader of this party.”

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Since 2015 the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Ryan – who served as a minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – has long been a vocal critic of the Labour leadership’s foreign policy and its handling of accusations of anti-Semitism. She is one of many MPs to have been deeply dissatisfied with the leadership’s response to the first batch of resignations yesterday, and had branded last night’s meeting of the PLP a “shambles”.

Ryan’s departure – the reasons for which echo the purely moral, rather than ideological reasons for quitting Labour that her new colleagues outlined yesterday – will increase the pressure on those MPs who have criticised the party’s handling of anti-Semitism but have not yet left. 

The leadership’s rejection of claims that Labour is not institutionally prejudiced against Jews have already suffered today after Ruth George, the 2017 intake MP for High Peak, was only verbally reprimanded by party whips after suggesting that the Independent Group could be funded by Israel. She has apologised unreservedly but the imposition of what some see as an insufficient punishment has not assuaged concerns among a restive PLP.