UK Politics

Lib Dems suspend peer over controversial meeting

Baroness Tonge Image copyright PA
Image caption Jenny Tonge was the MP for Richmond Park until 2005

A former Lib Dem MP has had her membership of the party suspended after chairing a meeting criticised as "shameful" by the Israeli embassy.

Baroness Tonge, who was already sitting as an independent peer, said she would now quit the party for good.

One person at the meeting reportedly compared Israel to so-called Islamic State.

Baroness Tonge said the comments had been a rant that "made no sense" and said she was "irritated" by the row.

The event, in the House of Lords, was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre as part of its campaign calling for the UK Government to "officially apologise for its past colonial crimes in Palestine".

'Horrified'

The Jewish Chronicle reported that another audience member had implied an American rabbi had provoked Hitler into murdering Jews.

A recording of the meeting sparked criticism from the Israeli embassy and a UK government minister said he was "genuinely horrified" at reading the reports.

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said: "She has been suspended. She was not a member of our group in the House of Lords, she was an independent peer, she has had her membership suspended."

Speaking to the BBC, Baroness Tonge blamed the "power of the Israel lobby" and its sway over UK political parties for her suspension.

She added: "Is it a cardinal sin to chair a meeting? I made no speeches or pronouncements. I'm extremely sad and frankly just irritated by it all."

Before joining the Lords, Baroness Tonge was the MP for Richmond Park in south-west London from 1997 to 2005.

The peer - who has not taken the Lib Dem whip since 2012 because she disagreed with the coalition government - said she had offered to resign her membership to "spare the party embarrassment" but was subsequently suspended anyway.

"I've been a member since 1959, following in my father's footsteps but I've resigned now and that's that. I'll sit as cross-bencher," she added.