What did Diane Abbott say in letter about racism and antisemitism that sparked suspension?

Diane Abbott has confirmed she intends to 'run and win' as a Labour candidate in the election.

(left to right) Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, on stage during an anti-Brexit rally in Parliament Square in London, after it was announced that the Letwin amendment, which seeks to avoid a no-deal Brexit on October 31, was accepted, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's statement in the House of Commons, on his new Brexit deal.
Diane Abbott and Sir Keir Starmer are former shadow cabinet colleagues. (PA)

Veteran MP Diane Abbott confirmed she will stand as a Labour candidate in the general election on 4 July and intends "to run and win".

Speculation had continued over the weekend as to whether Abbott would stand for the party, while allegations also emerged in The Sunday Times that a number of former Labour MPs including Abbott had been offered peerages to quit and open up seats for allies of party leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Starmer previously said Abbott is “free” to stand as a Labour candidate after reports that she had been barred from standing for the party, but the issue had remained unconfirmed.

Responding to reports suggesting she was still weighing up options, and was considering accepting a peerage, Abbott wrote on X: “This is factually incorrect. I have never been offered a seat in the Lords, and would not accept one if offered. I am the adopted Labour candidate for Hackney North & Stoke Newington. I intend to run and to win as Labour’s candidate.”

On Sunday, it was also claimed Abbott had posted and then swiftly deleted a message on X saying "more lies from Starmer" in response to a news article about the Labour leader saying that he had "more respect for Diane than she probably realises".

Neither Abbott nor Labour have confirmed if the post was sent by Abbott. On Monday morning, shadow defence secretary John Healey dodged questions about the issue on Good Morning Britain, saying: “I didn’t see it. If she has removed it then I can’t check it.”

Abbott had been 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. Last week she had the whip restored, but it has not yet been confirmed whether she will stand in Hackney and Stoke Newington in the forthcoming election.

Critics have said Abbott's treatment is part of a so-called left-wing purge to distance the party from the Corbyn era, which saw Faiza Shaeheen and Llloyd Russell-Moyle being blocked from standing for the party. Starmer has denied this.

Watch: Diane Abbott ignores reporters’ questions on her future

Labour's National Executive Committee is due to meet on 7 June to endorse all candidates.

In April last year, Abbott wrote a letter that was published in The Observer that sparked a racism row. The letter suggested that although white people “with points of difference” suffer prejudice, they have not suffered the same racism as Black people.

Abbott had been responding to a comment which suggested that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from racism in the UK.

She wrote: “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus.

London, UK. 28th Apr, 2024. Diane Abbott looks on in Hackney Downs Park during the rally. Union Leaders Call for Restoring Labour Whip to Diane Abbott Amidst Racism Allegations. (Photo by Thabo Jaiyesimi/SOPA Images/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News
Diane Abbott said she was ‘dismayed’ about not representing Labour in the general election. (Alamy)

“In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”

Abbott later apologised and said the “errors” were due to “an initial draft being sent” to the newspapers. She added: “Racism takes many forms and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, Travellers and many others.”

Abbott was reported to have been issued with a “formal warning” by the NEC for “engaging in conduct that was, in the opinion of the NEC, prejudicial and grossly detrimental to the Labour Party”.

She was told to take part in an online e-learning module, which she completed in February, something that Labour’s chief whip allegedly acknowledged by email.

Some critics, especially on the left of the Labour Party, have argued Starmer's actions were politically motivated and aimed at consolidating his control over the party by sidelining left-wing members and critics following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Starmer's personal role was also highlighted by a BBC report on Tuesday which claimed the investigation into Abbott had concluded five months ago, despite Starmer saying in recent weeks that the process was ongoing.

The Labour leader has consistently stated the investigation has "nothing to do with him” but Abbott posted on X that it had “everything to do with him”.

Last week, Starmer told LBC a decision on Abbott would come “very soon”. Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden said this showed Starmer had been “lying to the British people” and “has serious questions to answer".

Jacqueline McKenzie, an immigration lawyer and friend of Abbott, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday she had been surprised to learn the investigation had concluded in December. “What was really astonishing about all of that was… the leader of the Labour Party and senior officials saying an investigation was still underway," she said. “I think it’s really incumbent on them to explain, have they been honest about this process?

24 April 2023

Starmer responded to Abbott’s letter, describing it as “antisemitic”. He said at the time: “I condemn the words she used and we must never accept the argument that there’s some sort of hierarchy of racism”.

Starmer did not say if Abbott should not stand again for her London constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington at the next general election, stating: “There’s an investigation in place, I’ve got to let that investigation be completed.”

28 April 2023

Appearing on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show, Starmer rejected any suggestion he was trying to get rid of left-wingers.

He told the programme: “I was very clear, I think it was the first thing I said as Labour leader, which was I would tear antisemitism out by its roots from our party. And I asked all those that had lost confidence in Labour because of antisemitism to judge me by my actions, not by my words.

Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer makes his first keynote speech during a visit to Lancing in West Sussex, England, Monday May 27, 2024, as part of the general election campaign trail. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)
Critics have accused Sir Keir Starmer of lying over the investigation into Diane Abbott. (AP)

14 March 2024

Starmer said the issue of depriving Abbott of the Labour whip had not been “resolved”- yet it has now been reported by the BBC that the investigation concluded at the end of last year.

Starmer faced pressure to restore the whip following comments by Tory donor Frank Hester, who allegedly said in 2019 that Abbott made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she “should be shot”.

But Starmer said the suspension was “an entirely different issue” from the racism storm and cautioned against conflating the two matters – and again insisted the investigation was “ongoing”.

He told Jeremy Vine: “That was about allegations of antisemitism in relation to a letter… which is subject to an ongoing investigation, which is separate from me. That’s not something which I conduct.” He said the “independent process” was “not resolved”.

24 May 2024

Starmer said the investigation into Abbott will be resolved before the general election in July. Asked about the probe and whether she will run as a Labour candidate by Sky News, Starmer said: “The final decisions on candidates is coming up in a few days’ time, I think 4 June, it may be a little earlier, a little later, I can’t quite remember.

“But within a relatively short period of time the final list of candidates will be decided, and that will be a matter for the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee.”

WORCESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 29: Labour leader Keir Starmer attends a campaign event with Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting (not pictured) at Three Counties Medical School on May 29, 2024 in Worcester, United Kingdom. The Labour leader and Shadow Health Secretary met with patients who are stuck on waiting lists for treatments, and unveiled Labour vision to reduce NHS backlogs by performing two million extra operations, scans, and appointments in the first year.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer told reporters on Wednesday that it was ‘not true’ that Diane Abbott had been barred from standing for Labour. (Getty)

28 May 2024

Following the reports that the investigation was completed five months ago, Starmer said the decision would be resolved “in due course”.

Asked about the investigation finishing in December, Starmer told broadcasters: “The process overall is obviously a little longer than the fact-finding exercise. But in the end, this is a matter that will have to be resolved by the National Executive Committee and they’ll do that in due course.”

29 May 2024

Facing pressure to clarify Abbott’s position, Starmer insisted “no decision” had been taken to bar Abbott from standing for Labour.

He told reporters: “The process that we were going through ended with the restoration of the whip the other day, so she’s a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and no decision has been taken barring her.”

30 May

Asked if he is blocking left-wingers from standing, Starmer said: “No. I’ve said repeatedly over the last two years as we’ve selected our candidates that I want the highest-quality candidates.

“That’s been the position for a very long time.”

31 May

Early in the day Starmer again refused to say if he wants Abbott to stand again for his party. “Diane Abbott has had the whip returned to her, no decision has been taken to bar her from standing and the NEC will come to a decision in due course,” he said.

But later in the day, he said she was "free to go forward as a Labour candidate, the whip is back with her, it's been restored."

2 June

The Sunday Times reported that a number of former Labour MPs, including Abbott, had been offered peerages to quit and make way for Starmer allies. Abbott said she had “never been offered a seat in the Lords, and would not accept one if offered”, the report added.

Meanwhile, an Observer article reported that Starmer said: "I’ve actually got more respect for Diane than she probably realises. She was the first Black woman MP and has always had to fight for everything. She’s not like any other candidate.”