Starmer says Diane Abbott is ‘free’ to stand for Labour in next election, in U-turn

Diane Abbott is “free” to stand as a Labour candidate in the general election, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

After days of back and forth about whether the veteran MP would be blocked, the Labour leader confirmed she will be able to contest the election as a Labour candidate.

Sir Keir told reporters: "The whip has obviously been restored to her now and she is free to go forward as a Labour candidate."

He praised the Labour veteran as a "trailblazer", saying: "Diane Abbott was elected in 1987, the first black woman MP.

"She has carved a path for other people to come into politics and public life."

He had previously refused to say whether Ms Abbot would be defending her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat on 4 July, as he faced claims of a "purge" of left-wing candidates.

Ms Abbot told the BBC: “I will not be making any comment until next week but the narrative looks positive.”

Diane Abbott is ‘free’ to stand as a candidate in the election, Sir Keir Starmer has said (PA)
Diane Abbott is ‘free’ to stand as a candidate in the election, Sir Keir Starmer has said (PA)

She was suspended from Labour last year after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice, but not racism, sparking a long-running process which saw her sit as an Independent MP.

She had the Labour whip restored this week, but it was briefed out that she might be "barred" from running for the party in the general election.

Labour sources said Ms Abbott will be the Labour candidate in her long-held constituency and Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is expected to support her candidacy.

Party staffers were furious at the Labour leader for allowing the row to rumble on, overshadowing much of the coverage of Labour’s election campaign for the past week.

The dramatic U-turn came after Sir Keir’s deputy Angela Rayner said Ms Abbott should be allowed to stand – in a break with the party leader.

Ms Rayner had said “as the deputy leader of the Labour Party… I don’t see any reason why Diane Abbott can’t stand as a Labour MP going forward”.

She heaped praise on Ms Abbott, describing her as an inspiration and a trailblazer. And Ms Rayner appeared to take aim at Sir Keir and his inner circle, stressing that she is “not happy” about negative briefings to newspapers about Ms Abbott from senior Labour sources.

“I don’t think that is how we should conduct ourselves,” she told ITV.

Until Friday Sir Keir had deflected questions about whether Ms Abbott should be allowed to stand, saying it is a decision for Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee.

He insisted “no decision has been taken”, though it was widely expected she would be blocked.

The Conservatives immediately sought to capitalise on the chaos, claiming Sir Keir is being pushed around by left-winger Ms Rayner. “Under pressure, he's showing he's a weak leader who's losing control of the Labour Party,” a Conservative Party spokesman said.