Jeremy Corbyn is facing further pressure over anti-Semitism in Labour after one of the party’s most prominent Jewish figures declined to endorse him as prime minister.
Dame Margaret Hodge – an MP for 25 years – refused to be drawn on whether she would prefer to see the Labour leader or Boris Johnson in Number 10, saying a government is “more than any individual”.
Her comments came after another Labour candidate stepped down after allegedly making an anti-Semitic remark.
Gideon Bull, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Clacton, apologised after a Jewish councillor complained about a reference he made to “Shylock” – the Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson came under fire after he suggested his Brexit agreement was a “great deal” for Northern Ireland as it would retain access to the EU single market and maintain freedom of movement.
The Liberal Democrats said his comments showed that even the Prime Minister recognised that Britain would be better off staying in the EU.
Dame Margaret’s intervention came the day after two former Labour MPs – Ian Austin and John Woodcock – said they would be supporting the Tories as they did not believe Mr Corbyn was fit to be prime minister.
Like Mr Austin, Dame Margaret – who is seeking re-election as MP for Barking – has been a long-standing critic of the Labour leader, accusing him of failing to tackle anti-Semitism within the party.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether she would prefer Mr Corbyn or Mr Johnson as prime minister, she replied: “I want a Labour government.”
Pressed on the issue, she said: “I think any government is more than any individual. And I want a Labour government.
“And I think that was as true of the past as it is of the present.”
Dame Margaret added she had faced “some hostility” to the work she had done around fighting anti-Semitism.
“I do think it’s a terrible reflection that actually there is myself and Ruth Smeeth and we’re the only two women Jewish MPs left on the Labour side,” she said.
Shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti – who carried out a much-criticised review of anti-Semitism in Labour – expressed her regret at Dame Margaret’s comments.
“I’m sorry to hear that from Margaret, who I’ve worked with and debated with, with great mutual respect for many years,” she told the Today programme.
Mr Bull, meanwhile, denied he had called a fellow cabinet member on Haringey Council “Shylock” but acknowledged that he had used the expression.
“When she politely informed me that this saying was offensive, I immediately apologised and explained that I did not know that Shylock was Jewish and I would never have mentioned Shylock if I had known this,” he said.
“I grew up in a working class area in Ilford where this was a common saying, but I didn’t know it was offensive. This was a genuine accident and I reiterate my sincere apology for this mistake.”
His decision to step down came the day after the prospective Labour candidate for Gordon, Kate Ramsden resigned over a blog she wrote likening Israel to “an abused child who becomes an abusive adult”.
The party’s candidate for Edinburgh South, Frances Hoole, was also dropped over comments she posted about her SNP opponent Joanna Cherry.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson insisted his Brexit deal was good for the “whole of the UK” after it had emerged that he had suggested it would mean Northern Ireland would continue to enjoy the benefits of EU membership.
In a video posted online by Manufacturing NI, the Prime Minister said: “Northern Ireland has got a great deal. You keep free movement, you keep access to the single market but you also have, as it says in the deal, unfettered access to GB.”
Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “The single market and freedom of movement are a great deal – even Boris Johnson recognises this.
“So why isn’t he keeping them for the whole of the UK as part of the many benefits of EU membership?
“It is clear that the best deal for the UK is the one we have now – in the EU.”
Questioned about his comments, Mr Johnson – who visited Northern Ireland on Thursday – said: “I’m not going to hide it from you that Northern Ireland has a good deal but so does the the whole of the UK.”