Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate

  • By Sam Francis
  • Political reporter, BBC News

Image caption,

Azhar Ali issued an apology after his comments were published

Labour says it has “withdrawn support” for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after his comments on Israel.

The BBC understands Mr Ali has been suspended from Labour pending an investigation.

It is too late for the party to replace Mr Ali as its candidate.

The decision means that Mr Ali will remain on the ballot as the Labour candidate for Rochdale, but if he is elected he will sit as a independent MP or join another party.

It is also highly unlikely that Mr Ali would be selected by Labour to fight the forthcoming general election.

He is alleged to have told a Labour party meeting that Israel had “allowed” the deadly attack by Hamas gunmen on 7 October.

After the comments came to light, Mr Ali apologised “to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments”.

Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator Pat McFadden said Mr Ali was suspended after “more comments” came to light.

It is unclear what was said in the new comments but it is understood to be further remarks made at the same meeting.

Mr McFadden said “the fact you have got a very rare circumstances where a political party is withdrawing support for a candidate after nominations have closed” showed Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer was serious about “routing antisemitism out of the Labour party”.

Labour has faced intense pressure since the remarks surfaced, with widespread condemnation from party members and political rivals.

Withdrawing support for Mr Ali will come as a blow to Labour, who had initially stood by him as the candidate to take over as MP for Rochdale after the death Sir Tony Lloyd.

Frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds had been out campaigning for Mr Ali in the constituency at the weekend.

Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds had also been sent out to defend Labour’s decision to back Mr Ali on Monday morning.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the comments were “completely and utterly unacceptable” but suggested Mr Ali understood the “gravity of the offence that has been caused” and had “unreservedly apologised”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak accused Labour of only withdrawing support for Mr Ali due to “enormous media pressure”.

“That’s not principled”, Mr Sunak said.

The by-election will be held on Thursday, 29 February.

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