Tim Farron has sacked a Liberal Democrat candidate and former MP over alleged anti-semitic remarks hours after suggesting he couldn’t take any action.
The Lib Dem leader has barred David Ward from standing for re-election in Bradford East, where he was the MP from 2010-15.
Mr Farron had come under pressure during Prime Minister’s Questions, with Conservative MP Eric Pickles asking Theresa May if she shared his “disgust that a former member of this house criticised by the home affairs select committee for anti-semitism has been selected for Bradford East for the Liberal Democrats?”
The Prime Minister replied that she was “disappointed to see the Liberal Democrats re-adopt a candidate with a questionable record on antisemitism”.
In a statement, Mr Farron said: “I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united. David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him.”
Mr Ward was suspended by the party for three months while an MP for a series of incidents, including accusing “the Jews” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians” in a blog post on Holocaust Memorial Day.
He also said he was willing to fire rockets into Israel and praised a Labour MP who was suspended for sharing anti-semitic images on Facebook.
A Lib Dem source said the power to sack a candidate had never been used by a party leader before.
Earlier in the day, Mr Farron had suggested he couldn’t remove Mr Ward as a candidate, telling an election rally: “I don’t select our individual candidates”.
Asked about Mr Ward’s comments, the Lib Dem leader said: “I am fully aware of the comments David Ward has made in the past and I find them deeply offensive, wrong and antisemitic.
“I think his decision to stand again, and the local party’s decision to select him, is wrong and I disagree with it completely.
“I don’t select our individual candidates and nor should I. But let me be clear, I won’t tolerate antisemitism in my party.
David Ward has been disciplined in the past and if he or anyone else makes antisemitic remarks in this campaign I will expect the party to act quickly and decisively, as we did when we suspended a candidate in Luton South yesterday.”
The party’s candidate in Luton, Ashuk Ahmed, was suspended over Facebook posts that compared Zionism with Nazism.
Mr Farron has had a difficult start to the election campaign after having to defend his religious views and clarify that he does not believe gay sex to be a sin.