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Watch: Keir Starmer apologises over anti-Semitism on 'day of shame'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer apologises for party’s handling of anti-Semitism after report finds it broke law
Starmer then dramatically suspends Jeremy Corbyn after predecessor insists report “overstated”
Starmer: “It is a day of shame for the Labour Party”
Sir Keir Starmer has apologised for his party’s “failed” handling of anti-Semitism after a damning report found Labour broke equality law.
Starmer said it was a “day of shame” for Labour – before dramatically suspending Jeremy Corbyn from the party after his predecessor played down aspects of the report which he claimed were “overstated”.
A report released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on Thursday found the party was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.
The investigation found evidence of “political interference” by then leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office in the complaints process.
At a press conference, Starmer – who was speaking at a lectern with a slogan reading “a new leadership” – said: “I found this report 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.
“And so on behalf of the Labour Party: I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused.”
The EHRC’s 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”.
It identified serious failings in the party leadership in addressing anti-Semitism and an inadequate process for handling anti-Semitism complaints.
Corbyn, who was replaced as leader by Starmer in April, said he did not accept all the EHRC’s findings and insisted he had improved the process for handling complaints.
He also claimed the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
It raised the prospect of Starmer taking disciplinary action against Corbyn, after the leader said in his press conference that anyone who says anti-Semitism within the party has been exaggerated “should be nowhere near” Labour.
However, when asked whether Corbyn had been fit to be leader of the party, Starmer said: “The report doesn’t make individual findings about Jeremy Corbyn.”
In a broadcast interview, Corbyn then repeated his claim that the number of anti-Semitism cases “had become overstated” while acknowledging “the existence of the problem”.
Starmer responded by suspending Corbyn. A 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.”
Corbyn then issued a statement saying he will “strongly contest” Starmer’s “political intervention”.
I will strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me.
I’ve made absolutely clear those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong.
I will continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 29, 2020
He has also had the whip removed from the Parliamentary Labour Party, meaning he is not officially a Labour MP. Corbyn has represented the Islington North constituency for 37 years.
Anti-Semitism claims dogged Labour for almost the entirety of Corbyn’s leadership between September 2015 and April this year.
It led to MPs such as Luciana Berger, who is Jewish, quitting the party. On Thursday, she said anti-Semitism “permeated” the party at all levels.
Meanwhile, Starmer – who had a senior role in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet – promised to implement the EHRC recommendations in full. These are legally enforceable by the courts if not fulfilled.
He said he recognised “how painful” the findings are for Jewish people, Labour members and whistleblowers.
“So let me be clear, I hear you and I can promise you this: I will act. Never again will Labour let you down.
“The Labour Party I lead accepts this report in full and without qualification, we will implement all the recommendations and we will implement them in full. That process starts today.”
Recommendations include commissioning an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints and acknowledging the effect political interference has had and implementing clear rules to stop it happening again.
Starmer quickly came under fire from Conservative MPs following his press conference.
Home secretary Priti Patel said he was “sat in the same shadow cabinet while all of these anti-Semitic attacks were taking place” and “really has to ask himself some hard questions as to why he didn’t speak out”.
When Starmer was elected leader in April, he pledged to root out anti-Semitism from the party.
In June, he sacked then shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey – a Corbyn ally – after she shared an article containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and refused to delete it from her Twitter account.
Responding to the report, Gideon Falter, from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, said: “The report is enforceable and Keir Starmer really has to abide by its recommendations.
“These are very simple, straight-forward recommendations.
“There are a lot of reforms that he needs to make. There really is no choice. British justice has come and it has been very, very clear about what has to happen next.”