Jeremy Corbyn has denied there is “wide scale” bullying in Labour as another MP quit the party complaining of anti-Semitism within its ranks.
Former minister Ian Austin said he was “ashamed” of the party which had developed a “culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance” under Mr Corbyn
He said the Labour leader was not fit to be prime minister and warned that other MPs were considering their position in the party.
However, in an interview for Sky News, Mr Corbyn flatly denied there was a widespread problem in the party and said any “bad behaviour” was dealt with.
“There is no place for harshness, bullying or anything else in the party. I don’t believe that it exists on a wide scale,” he said.
“Where there is bad behaviour we deal with it. Where there is a problem we deal with it.”
Mr Corbyn, who has been in Madrid for a meeting of European socialists, took issue with claims by deputy leader Tom Watson the party did have a problem.
“I will be speaking to Tom Watson in the very near future to talk to him about that,” he said.
“He has made a comment. It is his comment, not mine. Of course I disagree with him.”
Mr Austin, who was the ninth MP to quit Labour this week, said the party was “broken” under Mr Corbyn’s leadership .
The Dudley North MP, whose Jewish adoptive father was forced to flee the Nazis as a child, said the leadership was “not capable” of dealing with the anti-Semitism which had been allowed to “flourish” in the party.
He told the Press Association that he believed other Labour MPs were now considering their positions.
“I’m sure lots of Labour MPs are grappling with this issue, all the time. I’m sure they are,” he said.
“They don’t think in their heart of hearts that he is fit to be prime minster either. ”
He said he could never ask his constituents to make Mr Corbyn prime minister, saying he and shadow chancellor John McDonnell “cannot be trusted with our national security and would undermine our democratic institutions”.
Mr Austin said he had no plans to join his eight former colleagues – alongside three former Tory MPs – in the new Independent Group which, unlike him, backs a second EU referendum.
Asked if he would back Theresa May in any motion of no confidence, he said: “I don’t think we are at that point, and I hope that that isn’t the choice that faces the country in the future, but I do think that Jeremy Corbyn is completely unfit to be prime minister.”
Labour said it regretted Mr Austin’s decision but called on him to quit as an MP and fight a by-election in the seat he held in 2017 with a majority of just 22 – a call he rejected.
A party spokesman said: “He was elected as a Labour MP and so the democratic thing is to resign his seat and let the people of Dudley decide who should represent them.”
Mr Watson said Mr Austin’s resignation was a “serious blow” to the party, adding: “It’s also personally hard to see a close friend take a decision of this magnitude.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell acknowledged “fiercer” action was needed on anti-Semitism, telling the Evening Standard: “I think there’s been a lot of listening but not enough action. That’s the problem.”
But Mr Austin was sceptical about the leadership’s desire to address the issue.
“The last time I tried to speak to John McDonnell it wasn’t a very long conversation on his side and I wouldn’t repeat the words he used,” he said.
He suggested the current leadership was incapable of dealing with it because they had spent their lives on “the extreme fringes of British politics, working with all sorts of extremists and, in some cases, terrorists and anti-Semites”.
Mr Austin announced his decision in the Express & Star newspaper and issued a fuller explanation in a statement on his website.
“I grew up listening to my Dad – a refugee from the Holocaust – teaching me about the evils of hatred and prejudice,” he said.
“One of the main reasons I joined the Labour Party as a teenager here in Dudley more than 35 years ago was to fight racism, and I could never have believed that I’d be leaving because of racism too.”
Former Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie – who left to form the Independent Group earlier in the week – offered support to Mr Austin after his announcement.