Jeremy Corbyn has said he will “strongly contest” his suspension from Labour, signalling another outbreak of hostilities in the party’s bitter civil war.
Labour headquarters suspended former leader Mr Corbyn, and removed the parliamentary whip, after he said the scale of the anti-Semitism problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by his opponents “inside and outside the party”.
The move came against a backdrop of a devastating report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which found Labour had acted unlawfully in its handling of the anti-Semitism crisis which has rocked the party.
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
The suspension came after Mr Corbyn’s successor Sir Keir Starmer said that if anyone claimed the issue had been exaggerated or was a “factional attack”, then they were “part of the problem”.
Mr Corbyn’s refusal to withdraw the remarks led to the decision to suspend him by the party’s general secretary David Evans, an ally of Sir Keir.
It marks the latest development in Sir Keir’s efforts to distance himself from his predecessor.
Sir Keir’s remarks were delivered from a podium reading “a new leadership”, just to underline the point.
Mr Corbyn, who frequently complained about elements in Labour headquarters trying to undermine him when he was leader, hit out at the “political intervention” which saw him suspended.
“I will strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me,” he said.
“I’ve made absolutely clear those who deny there has been an anti-Semitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong.”
I urge all party members to stay calm as that is the best way to support Jeremy and each other. Let’s all call upon the leadership to lift this suspension.
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) October 29, 2020
John McDonnell, who was Mr Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, said the suspension was “profoundly wrong” but urged the former leader’s supporters to remain calm.
He said: “On the day we should all be moving forward and taking all steps to fight anti-Semitism, the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn is profoundly wrong.
“In (the) interests of party unity, let’s find a way of undoing and resolving this.
“I urge all party members to stay calm as that is the best way to support Jeremy and each other. Let’s all call upon the leadership to lift this suspension.”
The Socialist Campaign Group of left-wing MPs also condemned the suspension.
“We firmly oppose the decision to suspend Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party,” the group said.
“We will work tirelessly for his reinstatement.
“The fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism is central to the struggle for a society based on justice and equality.”
The pro-Corbyn Momentum pressure group said: “This suspension risks politicising Labour’s response to anti-Semitism.
“It is a massive attack on the left by the new leadership and should be immediately lifted in the interests of party unity.”
Unite union boss Len McCluskey said the suspension was a “grave injustice”.
“The suspension appears to fly in the face of one of the important recommendations made by the EHRC – and which Keir himself said he would implement in full and immediately – which is to remove the leader’s office from party investigations,” he said.
“But it is also an act of grave injustice which, if not reversed, will create chaos within the party and in doing so compromise Labour’s chances of a general election victory. A split party will be doomed to defeat.”
Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communications Workers’ Union, said the decision to suspend Mr Corbyn was “fundamentally wrong and needs to change”.
Meanwhile, money has been flowing in to a crowdfund aimed at paying Mr Corbyn’s legal costs should he face defamation action over earlier comments made about the anti-Semitism row.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “I’m devastated that it’s come to this. Today should be about really listening, and reading the report and taking in the report.
“It’s a day of shame for the Labour Party and the findings were stark.
“Jeremy is a fully decent man, but as Margaret Hodge said, he has an absolute blind spot, and a denial, when it comes to some of these issues and that’s devastating.”
She rejected Mr Corbyn’s assertion that anti-Semitism had been exaggerated and said the findings of the EHRC bring “shame on us”.
“And there’s no mitigation of that, and we have to acknowledge that and do something about it,” Ms Rayner added.
This is the right decision following Corbyn’s shameful reaction to the EHRC report.
Labour is finally saying enough is enough, antisemitism can never be tolerated in our party. Now we can finally move on. https://t.co/dn8SxvV9sy
— Margaret Hodge (@margarethodge) October 29, 2020
Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who clashed repeatedly with Mr Corbyn while he was leader, said the suspension was “the right decision following Corbyn’s shameful reaction to the EHRC report”.
Sir Keir said: “I want to unite the Labour Party and bring our factions together as a united party.
“But I made a very clear commitment to root out anti-Semitism and I’m going to follow through on that commitment.
“We cannot say ‘zero tolerance’ and then turn a blind eye.”