Corbyn vows to root out ‘poisonous’ blight of anti-Semitism

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Chief Rabbi of being wrong about part of his criticism of Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism, as he vowed to root out the “poisonous” blight from society.

The Labour leader declined to apologise four times to the Jewish community under questioning from veteran journalist Andrew Neil on Tuesday.

Mr Corbyn was quizzed on Brexit, his tax plans and borrowing as part of a series of BBC interviews with those vying to become the next prime minister.

But much of Tuesday’s discussion with The Andrew Neil Interviews focused on anti-Semitism after Ephraim Mirvis’s unprecedented intervention warning Mr Corbyn was unfit to lead the nation.

Mr Corbyn said: “I’m looking forward to having a discussion with him because I want to hear why he would say such a thing.”

The Labour leader was challenged over Rabbi Mirvis’s allegation that Labour’s claims it is doing everything to tackle anti-Jewish racism was a “mendacious fiction”.

“No, he’s not right. Because he would have to produce the evidence to say that’s mendacious,” Mr Corbyn replied.

He insisted he has “developed a much stronger process” and had sanctioned and removed members who have been anti-Semitic.

Mr Corbyn also denied that the blight increased after he took over the party, saying: “It didn’t rise after I became leader.

“Anti-Semitism is there in society, there are a very, very small number of people in the Labour Party that have been sanctioned as a result about their anti-Semitic behaviour.”

But he repeatedly refused to apologise when asked by Mr Neil.

“We will not allow anti-Semitism in any form in our society because it is poisonous and divisive, just as much as Islamophobia or far-right racism is,” Mr Corbyn said.

Mr Corbyn insisted he had “strengthened the processes” since a written warning was given to a member who questioned the murder toll of the Holocaust.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Neil (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

Rabbi Mirvis wrote in The Times that Labour’s handling of the issue that has dogged the party under Mr Corbyn’s leadership was “incompatible” with British values.

He said the overwhelming majority of Britain’s Jews were “gripped with anxiety” ahead of the General Election on December 12, warning “the very soul of our nation is at stake”.

Mr Corbyn was also pressed over his plan to broker a “credible” Leave deal with the EU and then be neutral in a referendum along with Remain within six months of taking power.

“I will be the honest broker that will make sure the referendum is fair and make sure that the Leave deal is a credible one,” he said.

“That seems to me actually an adult and sensible way to go forward.”

But Mr Corbyn was unable to say who would campaign for his Brexit deal, with much of his shadow cabinet eager to campaign for Remain.

On his taxation plans, Mr Corbyn denied that a significant part his income tax base would leave the country if he took power.

“No, it doesn’t crumble at all,” he said. “They can see all around them the crumbling of public services and the terrible levels of child poverty that exist across Britain.

“There is no reason why they would have to leave the country and they shouldn’t.”

He was quizzed over how he would increase borrowing.

“We are not going to willy-nilly borrow, what we are going to do is deal with the worst aspects of what’s happened in austerity, the worst aspects of poverty in Britain,” he said.

Mr Corbyn declined to say for certain whether he would give the orders to take out any new leader of so-called Islamic State (IS) if it was not possible to arrest them.

“I will take the appropriate decision at the appropriate time with all the information, you asked me a hypothetical question in a hypothetical scenario,” he said.

Mr Corbyn stressed it was essential to look “to the future” and at how IS formed and spread, adding: “We also have to look at how we created these dangers as well.”