Labour's Chris Williamson denies being sacked over council tax call

Media caption,
Chris Williamson says Jeremy Corbyn is a "very close friend" who would be go on to be the country's best prime minister.

A Labour MP has denied being sacked from the front bench for suggesting council tax for expensive homes in England should be doubled.

Chris Williamson, who resigned as shadow fire minister on Thursday, also told the BBC's Daily Politics Jeremy Corbyn remained "a very close friend".

Some Labour MPs suggested Mr Corbyn had fired him over the comments, which he had stressed were not party policy.

The Conservatives said he was "forced out" having "exposed Labour's plans".

Labour's announcement on Thursday that he had left the party's front bench did not give any reasons for his departure.

But some Labour MPs linked it to his comments the day before, in which he suggesting doubling council tax on the highest value homes in England could help councils ease budgetary pressures:

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Asked if he had resigned or been sacked, the Derby North MP told the BBC's Daily Politics: "No, no I stepped down because I wanted to spend a greater amount of my time campaigning and to give a voice for ordinary party members."

He suggested his Labour colleague Wes Streeting had "misunderstood the idea that I floated" about council tax, adding: "It's not a matter for it to be party policy. I'm not suggesting it be party policy."

Mr Williamson said he had found it "constraining to some extent" being on the front bench and being bound by collective responsibility.

He said he had been asked by Mr Corbyn to look through the party's environmental policies and to draw up a policy programme on animal rights issues for consideration - which, as a vegan for 42 years and former hunt saboteur - he said he was keen to do.

Asked if he was still on good terms with Mr Corbyn, the MP said: "Let me be clear, Jeremy Corbyn is a very close friend of mine, a good comrade and in my view the best leader this party has ever had."

Mr Williamson, 61, is the MP for Derby North - a role he held from 2010 before losing his seat in 2015 and then winning it back again in 2017.