Published: 17:09, 29 October 2020
| Updated: 20:00, 29 October 2020
Labour has endured a “day of shame” which saw former leader Jeremy Corbyn suspended after the human rights watchdog found the party broke equality law over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.
A damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found the party was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.
Mr Corbyn rejected some of the report’s findings and claimed the issue had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by his critics.
His comments led to Labour’s headquarters suspending him from the party as current leader Sir Keir Starmer sought to draw a dividing line between the Labour Party now and the five years under Mr Corbyn.
Sir Keir told reporters: “I made it clear that we won’t tolerate anti-Semitism or the denial of anti-Semitism through the suggestion that it’s exaggerated or factional and that’s why I was disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s response, and that is why appropriate action has been taken, which I fully support.”
Sir Keir said the findings of the EHRC investigation were “hard to read and it is a day of shame for the Labour Party”.
“We have failed Jewish people, our members, our supporters and the British public,” he said.
“And so on behalf of the Labour Party: I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused.”
Mr Corbyn said he would “strongly contest” the decision to suspend him, which he described as a “political intervention”.
He said he was “very shocked and very disappointed” by the move and said it was “odd that it all happened so very quickly”.
Mr Corbyn said it was “undeniable that a false impression has been created of the number of members accused of anti-Semitism” and that was what had been overstated,”not the seriousness of the problem”.
A Labour Party spokesman said: “In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour Party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation.
“He has also had the whip removed from the Parliamentary Labour Party.”
The EHRC investigation found evidence of “political interference” by then leader Mr Corbyn’s office in the complaints process.
EHRC interim chairwoman Caroline Waters said there had been “inexcusable” failures which “appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle anti-Semitism rather than an inability to do so”.
The watchdog identified three breaches of the Equality Act relating to political interference in complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism cases, and harassment.
The party has been served with an unlawful act notice and has been given until December 10 to draft an action plan to implement the report’s recommendations. The notice is legally enforceable by the courts if not fulfilled.
The EHRC found 23 instances of inappropriate involvement by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office (LOTO) and others in the 70 files the watchdog looked at.
They included LOTO staff influencing decisions, including on suspensions or whether to investigate claims.
The EHRC concluded that the lack of training for people handling anti-Semitism complaints indirectly discriminated against Jewish members until August 2020, by which time Sir Keir Starmer was leader of the party.
Labour has committed to proper training, with the EHRC recommending it should be mandatory and fully implemented within six months.
The watchdog highlighted the actions of former London mayor Ken Livingstone and Pam Bromley, who was a councillor in Rossendale, Lancashire, during the anti-Semitism row.
The EHRC said Labour was responsible for their anti-Semitic conduct, resulting in a finding of unlawful harassment, because they were acting as agents of the party.
But the report said this was only the tip of the iceberg and a further 18 “borderline” cases were found, involving councillors, local election candidates and constituency party office holders where there was not enough evidence to conclude Labour was legally responsible for their conduct.
Recommendations made by the watchdog include commissioning an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints.
The EHRC’s lead investigator Alasdair Henderson told a press conference that blame could not be placed on one person alone and the problem went beyond Mr Corbyn, but added that “as leader of the party, and with evidence of political interference from within his office, he does have a responsibility ultimately for those failings”.
The Jewish Labour Movement said blame for the “sordid, disgraceful chapter” in the party’s history “lies firmly with those who held positions of leadership”.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the report was a “historic nadir for the Labour Party”.
Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl welcomed Mr Corbyn’s suspension, saying: “Having presided over the descent of a proudly anti-racist party into a party that broke equalities law in its treatment of Jews, his shameless comments today showed that he remains part of the problem and is an obstruction to the resolution of the issue.”
But the pro-Corbyn Momentum pressure group said the suspension “risks politicising and undermining Labour’s response to anti-Semitism”.
“It is a massive attack on the left by the new leadership and it should be immediately lifted in the interests of party unity,” Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood said.