Jeremy Corbyn to start legal action over suspension of Labour whip

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Jeremy Corbyn is to start a formal legal claim against the Labour party for suspending the whip, in a case which allies of the former Labour leader say is intended to prove there was a deal with Keir Starmer’s office to readmit him to the party.

The Guardian has seen evidence of exchanges between key members of Starmer’s office and Corbyn’s representatives, suggesting there were private meetings in the run-up to the party’s decision to lift his suspension from the party.

Starmer subsequently ordered the Labour whip be withheld from Corbyn until he apologises and deletes comments made following the equalities watchdog investigation into antisemitism in the party.

Corbyn’s lawyers lodged a pre-action disclosure application to the high court on Thursday night. “All of this will be in the public domain soon,” one source involved in the discussions said.

A Labour source said: “Any accusation that there was a deal or an attempt to determine the outcome of any disciplinary process is wrong.”

Corbyn has not directly apologised for the claim that the scale of the problem investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and the media but has since issued a clarifying statement saying it was not his intention to “tolerate antisemitism or belittle concerns about it”.

It is understood Corbyn’s legal team are attempting to put in the public domain evidence of what the former Labour leader will claim was a deal thrashed out by Starmer’s chief of staff, Morgan McSweeney, and his deputy, Simon Fletcher, with Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, and the former shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett, acting on behalf of Corbyn.

His advisers say they have evidence of two key meetings, one in person and one on Zoom, where the choreography of Corbyn’s disciplinary process was allegedly discussed.

The legal team is also expected to claim that Starmer, McSweeney and Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, met McCluskey and Trickett in the leader of the opposition’s office boardroom in parliament the day after the EHRC report and Corbyn’s suspension.

Labour sources do not deny the meeting took place, but say it was at the request of McCluskey and that Starmer had said publicly he wanted Corbyn to issue an apology. Starmer is understood to have told his office he did not want to be involved in any decisions around the convening of the disciplinary panel.

Corbyn’s allies will claim that his clarifying statement was then agreed over the course of the next 24 hours in Zoom calls and WhatsApp messages between McCluskey, Trickett, McSweeney and Fletcher.

The claim, fiercely denied by Labour sources, is that it was agreed the early publication of the statement would lead to a swift disciplinary panel of the party’s governing body, the national executive committee, who would be recommended to administer only the most minor sanction.

The legal action is also expected to allege that another meeting took place on Zoom between Corbyn’s advisers and Starmer’s chief of staff, where it is alleged the final sanction was discussed and agreed. This has also been denied by Labour.

The release of the statement, which came on the morning of the panel deliberation, prompted anger from Starmer, as well as Jewish Labour members and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, because of the lack of a formal apology.

The final NEC panel decision was in fact to issue Corbyn with a more stringent sanction, a formal warning, but it is understood the panel received legal advice that the suspension from the party would be challengeable in court.

Corbyn has been told the whip will be suspended for three months while an investigation is carried out, and has been told by the chief whip, Nick Brown, to “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation” apologise for his claims made in the aftermath of the EHRC report.