Corbyn questions impartiality of body conducting antisemitism inquiry

Rajeev Syal
Photograph: Hollie Adams/PA

Jeremy Corbyn has questioned the impartiality of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into the Labour party’s handling of antisemitism claims.

Speaking to the website Middle East Eye in his first major interview since stepping down as Labour leader, Corbyn accused the EHRC of being “part of the government machine”.

His comments come as the equalities watchdog prepares to publish its findings, which are expected to be highly critical of many of Corbyn’s closest allies.

He said: “I think it’s quite significant that the Conservative government has underfunded the Equality and Human Rights Commission … and for some reason, which I don’t fully understand … decided to take away its independent status and make it part of the government machine.”

Asked if he believed that would affect the outcome of the commission’s report, the Islington North MP said: “Let’s see what happens.”

An EHRC spokesperson told Middle East Eye: “We are an independent regulator and take our impartiality very seriously. We have robust procedures and policies in place to manage conflicts of interests or perceived conflicts of interests.”

The website only released extracts from the interview on Monday, and will broadcast it in full on Tuesday.

Middle East Eye is a London-based online news site founded in 2014 that describes itself as “independently funded”. In 2017 Saudi Arabia claimed that Qatar funded Middle East Eye and demanded the country shut the outlet down as part of a series of sanctions on its neighbour. The site denies receiving funds from Doha.

The EHRC launched a formal investigation into Labour a year ago after it received hundreds of complaints about antisemitism in the party. It was only the second such inquiry into a political party by the watchdog, after one into the British National party.

Related: Equalities watchdog drops plan for Tory Islamophobia inquiry

It is seeking to establish whether the party committed unlawful acts and whether it has responded to complaints of unlawful acts in a lawful, efficient and effective manner.

Last month the EHRC dropped plans to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservatives after the party set out new details of its own investigation.

Classed as a non-departmental public body, the EHRC has had its budget cut by successive Tory-led governments, from £62m in 2010 to £17.4m this year.

The commission was reformed during Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary, to “increase its accountability to the government, parliament and the public and to improve its effectiveness and value for money”.

Corbyn said if he had become prime minister he would have widened the organisation’s powers and said claims he tolerated antisemitism among his supporters were “wrong and extremely unfair”. He told the website that he had taken steps to create a “robust process” to deal with the claims, describing antisemitism as “absolutely, totally unacceptable in any form”.

Asked about a leaked 860-page dossier on Labour’s handling of the issue, Corbyn refused to comment directly but described the party machine at the Southside HQ in London as “leaden-footed”.

“I always knew that there was a culture in the Labour party that was not a healthy one, of an almost self-perpetuating bureaucracy,” he said. “I wanted to change the way in which the party operated by changing from being a solely bureaucratic machine that administered the party, disciplined members and observed the rules and so on, into a community-organising base of the party.”

Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has launched an investigation into the leaking of the dossier.

A spokesperson for Labour said: “We fully respect the independence of the EHRC. Keir Starmer has made clear he will cooperate fully with the commission’s inquiry. We will implement, in full, any recommendations made by the EHRC.”