The gaffe-prone shadow Foreign Secretary is now at 50/1 to succeed Sir Keir Starmer if he is forced to step down in the next week over lockdown breaking allegations. As one of the most senior best known members of the shadow cabinet, he had been considered a contender to take over from the embattled Labour leader but infuriated the party’s trade union backers by refusing to support the strike by BA staff over the weekend.
But with pressure growing on the left of Labour, Mr Lammy has today been forced to make an embarrassing U-turn.
The shadow minister claimed that he misheard the question from Sophie Rayworth on the BBC Sunday morning days after he provoked instant outrage for his remarks.
In a letter, leaked to the Mirror, Mr Lammy: “Last Sunday in a live interview with the BBC, I misheard Sophie Raworth’s question about BA workers.
“When she said that workers wanted to reverse a previous pay cut of 10 percent, I mistakenly understood it to mean that they were seeking an above inflation pay rise.
“I was not across the details of the case. It is right that those of us in public life admit when they have made a mistake. With this in mind, I apologise to all BA workers.”
He added: “During the pandemic, BA workers were threatened with shameful ‘ fire and rehire’ tactics and had their pay slashed.
“That’s why I supported Labour ’s call for ‘fire and rehire’ to be banned in 2020, as well as aviation sector support with a clear commitment to protect skilled workers and working conditions in the industry.”
The row has underlined the chaos in Labour over Starmer’s attempts to distance his party from militant striking unions, particularly the train drivers represented by the RMT.
Numerous Labour MPs including deputy leader Angela Rayner have defied Starmer’s order to not give support to the RMT with many openly mocking him by joining picket lines.
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Starmer has said he will resign if he is fined for breaking lockdown rules in April last year when he attended an event with Ms Rayner with activists at which £200 of curry was consumed and washed down with beer.
If he quits the contest to replace him is believed to be wide open with the bookie’s favourite Andy Burnham not an MP.
Mr Lammy was seen as a contender because he has strong name recognition with the public unlike many of his shadow cabinet colleagues.
A decision on Starmer’s fate is expected within days from Durham Police.