Not permitting Diane Abbott to speak during PMQs amid racism row deemed ‘odd’

Cabinet minister Mark Harper has said it was “a bit odd” that MP Diane Abbott was not called to speak at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) when the racism row centred on her was raised.

Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth also said he thought people were “surprised” by it, but both politicians made clear the decision was down to the Commons Speaker.

The racism row revolves around remarks by businessman and Tory donor Frank Hester, who allegedly said in 2019 that Ms Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving black MP, made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Mark Harper
Transport Secretary Mark Harper was asked about the racism row during Sunday morning media rounds (Lucy North/PA)

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, she accused the Speaker of failing to act in the “interests of the Commons or democracy” after she was not called to speak.

Transport Secretary Mr Harper told Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips: “I saw Diane Abbott standing to catch the Speaker’s eye.

“It did seem a bit odd that, you know, the debate in the chamber was all about her.

“But look, who gets called at Prime Minister’s Questions is not a matter for backbenchers or a matter for the Government, and that’s entirely a matter for the Speaker.”

Jonathan Ashworth
Shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said he thought people were ‘surprised’ Ms Abbott was not permitted to speak during PMQs (Lucy North/PA)

“I think people were surprised she wasn’t called.”

A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s Office said there was “not enough time” to call all MPs in Wednesday’s PMQs.

Ms Abbott lost the whip in April last year after writing a letter to The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives”.

She withdrew her remarks the same day and apologised “for any anguish caused”.

While she remains a party member, she has sat as an independent MP while an internal investigation of her comments continues.

The Labour frontbencher told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg he did not know why the investigation into Ms Abbott’s comments had taken nearly a year.

“You’re asking me questions which I quite properly do not know the answer to, because – if it’s an independent process – they’re not going to be telling me as a politician the ins and outs of what is going on,” he said.

Asked if he could guarantee it would conclude before the general election, he said: “I would hope so.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has been among those to say she would like Ms Abbott to be allowed back into the party.

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