John McDonnell has triggered a backlash after he told a Labour MP facing a vote of no-confidence by her local constituency party to make clear she has no plans to join a new party.
Luciana Berger, the Liverpool Wavertree MP, has been accused of “continually criticising” Jeremy Corbyn.
Berger, who is Jewish, has spoken out against the Labour leader’s handling of anti-Semitism in the party.
Senior Labour MPs, including Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper, have rallied to her support.
But speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Friday morning, McDonnell said Berger had not been targeted because of anti-Semitism, but because she had refused to rule out quitting Labour.
“Luciana has been associated with a breakaway party or whatever and hasn’t been clear in stating she rejects that,” the shadow chancellor said.
“My advice to Luciana is just tell people you’re not supporting a breakaway party, you’re sticking with the Labour Party, you’re not jumping ship.”
He added that if there were “any elements of anti-Semitism” in Labour the party would “deal with them, full stop”.
Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader, came to Berger’s defence. “She has our solidarity, our support, as she battles the bullying and hatred from members of her own local Party. They bring disgrace to the Party that I love,” he said.
Speaking in the Commons, Watson warned that many MPs were still “the subject of death threats, the subject of racist abuse, the subject of misogynistic abuse, the subject of bullying and anti-Semitism”.
The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) has sent an open letter to McDonnell demanding he use a speech at the Labour Representation Committee this weekend to condemn anti-Semitism.
“The LRC completely reject the IHRA definition of antisemitism or any definition that the victims of antisemitism, the Jewish community, feel reflect the prejudice they experience. This approach is in no way consistent with any established conventions within anti-racism movements,” it said.
“Such a culture feeds an environment whereby Jewish MPs such as Luciana Berger receive death threats, abuse and threats of violence. It feeds a culture whereby Jews across the party are targeted for deselection, sanction or intimidation. It feeds a culture of not believing Jews when they are on the receiving end of hate. It feeds the cancer of antisemitism in our party.”
Berger also received support from Jon Lansman, the founder of the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum.
An extraordinary meeting has been scheduled February 17 to discuss two no-confidence motions in Berger.
One of the motions to be debated says: “The UK is in crisis because of the appalling austerity policies of a government that serves the interests of the rich. We need a Labour government under the socialist leadership of our twice-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of fighting for a Labour government our MP is continually using the media to criticise the man we all want to be prime minister.”
The other motion says: “The Tories are deeply divided, but millions are still suffering from their austerity policies. We desperately need a socialist Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn. Our MP is continually criticising our leader when she should be working for a general election and opposing the Tories.”
Corbyn’s decision to indicate he could back a Brexit deal if Theresa May agrees to a series of demands has angered many pro-EU Labour MPs.
Earlier this week Berger dodged questions over whether it could lead her to quit the party.
Owen Smith, the former leadership candidate, said he and “lots” of other MPs were considering resigning.