Ken Livingstone has announced that he is resigning from the Labour party, saying the issues around his suspension for alleged antisemitism had become a distraction.
The former mayor of London and Labour MP said he was leaving the party he joined 50 years ago with “great sadness” but would continue to campaign for a government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
In a statement, he said: “After much consideration, I have decided to resign from the Labour party. We desperately need a Corbyn-led government to transform Britain and I’ll continue to work to this end.”
He added: “The ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour party have become a distraction from the key political issue of our time – which is to replace a Tory government overseeing falling living standards and spiralling poverty, while starving our schools and the NHS of the vital resources they need.”
Livingstone, 72, has been suspended since 2016 in a row over antisemitism that erupted after comments he made about Adolf Hitler supporting Zionism, but a new Labour party disciplinary process was due to begin this week.
He came under mounting pressure after Shami Chakrabarti, who authored a report dealing with antisemitism and racism in the party, hinted that she might quit the Labour frontbench if he was not expelled from the party at his next hearing.
The shadow attorney general, whose intervention indicated that the front bench was starting to turn against Livingstone, said she did not believe there were circumstances where the party’s disciplinary panel could decide not to expel him.
Livingstone said he was quitting after his lawyers advised him that if he lost his case and was expelled, it would take at least two years before any legal challenge was resolved.
However, while he apologised for his controversial remarks that offended many in the Jewish community, he denied that he was guilty of antisemitism.
He has always maintained that comments he made about the Nazi leader supporting a Jewish homeland when he first came to power in the early 1930s were historically accurate.
“I do not accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour party into disrepute – nor that I am in any way guilty of antisemitism,” he said. “I abhor antisemitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so.
“I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that.”