The Labour Party has withdrawn support for its candidate in the Rochdale by-election after receiving “new information” about comments he is alleged to have made.
It is understood that Azhar Ali has also been suspended from the party pending an investigation.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.
“Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisible from the party of 2019.
“We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values.
“Given that nominations have now closed Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.”
Mr Ali’s candidacy had been thrown in the spotlight after the Mail on Sunday reported that he had suggested to party activists that Israel deliberately allowed the Hamas atrocity to take place in order to give it the “green light” to invade Gaza.
Today Sky News reported that Labour had received an official complaint about the comments from the campaign group Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS), which branded the remarks “antisemitic”.
LAAS, a campaign group founded by Labour members to combat antisemitism within the party, earlier today called for Mr Ali’s immediate suspension as a candidate and party member.
Alex Hearn, who is a director of the campaign group and member of the Labour Party, submitted a formal complaint against Mr Ali this afternoon in which he wrote: “The accusation that Jews plotted a massacre of innocent people for their own bloodthirsty gain is antisemitic.”
Mr Ali had earlier issued an “unreserved” apology for the “deeply offensive, ignorant and false” comments.
Although Labour has withdrawn its support for Mr Ali, it is understood he will still appear on the ballot paper in the by-election as the party’s candidate.
Speaking to reporters after the decision was made, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden said Sir Keir had taken the “tough but necessary” decision withdraw support Mr Ali and that the action he was proof he was serious about “rooting antisemitism” out of the party.
Mr McFadden said information had “come to light” which meant they had to take the “difficult” decision to withdraw support for his candidacy.
Pressed on why the decision was not made after Mr Ali’s comments on the Hamas attacks, Mr McFadden said: “What’s made this decision necessary is new information and further comments coming to light since those we knew about at the weekend.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak immediately seized on the developments in Rochdale to further his accusation that Sir Keir has “no principles at all”.
“Keir Starmer has been running around for the last year trying to tell everybody ‘OK, Labour Party’s changed’,” he said.
“Well, look what just happened in Rochdale, a candidate saying the most vile conspiracy theories, antisemitic, and what happened?
“He’s stood by and sent cabinet ministers to support him, until literally five minutes before I walked on tonight, under enormous media pressure, has decided to change his mind on principle. No principles at all.
“So no the Labour Party hasn’t changed. It’s a con.”
The Jewish Labour Movement statement said the party was “right to cease campaigning” for Mr Ali.
“As he cannot be removed from the ballot, we believe it is correct that he will not sit as a Labour MP if elected.”