‘Day of shame’ for UK Labour after watchdog finds it broke law over anti-Semitism

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Anti-semitism in Labour, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By David Hughes and Sam Blewett, PA

The UK's Labour party broke equality law in its handling of anti-Semitism complaints with former leader Jeremy Corbyn bearing ultimate responsibility for the failings, a human rights watchdog found.

A damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found the party was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.

Mr Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader Keir Starmer admitted the report’s findings marked a “day of shame” for the party and said he was “truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused”.

The investigation found evidence of “political interference” by then leader Mr Corbyn’s office in the complaints process.

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”.

Mr Corbyn said he did not accept all the EHRC’s findings and insisted he had improved the process for handling anti-Semitism complaints.

The former leader 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”.

The EHRC identified three breaches of the Equality Act relating to: political interference in complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism cases and harassment.

The party has been served with an unlawful act notice and has been given until December 10th to draft an action plan to implement the report’s recommendations, which is legally enforceable by the courts if not fulfilled.

The EHRC found 23 instances of inappropriate involvement by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office (LOTO) and others in the 70 files the watchdog looked at.

They included LOTO staff influencing decisions, including on suspensions or whether to investigate claims.

Anti-Semitic conduct

The watchdog found that the lack of training for people handling anti-Semitism complaints indirectly discriminated against Jewish members until August 2020, by which time Mr Starmer was leader of the party.

Labour has committed to proper training, with the EHRC recommending it should be mandatory and fully implemented within six months.

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The watchdog highlighted the actions of former London mayor Ken Livingstone and Pam Bromley, who was a councillor in Rossendale, Lancashire, during the anti-Semitism row.

The EHRC said Labour was responsible for their anti-Semitic conduct, resulting in a finding of unlawful harassment, because they were acting as agents of the party.

But the report said this was only the tip of the iceberg and a further 18 “borderline” cases were found, involving councillors, local election candidates and constituency party office holders where there was not enough evidence to conclude Labour was legally responsible for their conduct.

Recommendations made by the watchdog 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.

The EHRC’s lead investigator Alasdair Henderson told a press conference that blame could not be placed on one person alone and the problem went beyond Mr Corbyn but added that “as leader of the party, and with evidence of political interference from within his office, he does have a responsibility ultimately for those failings”.

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In a statement, Mr Corbyn said: “The EHRC’s report shows that when I became Labour leader in 2015, the party’s processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose. Reform was then stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy.

“But from 2018, (then general secretary) Jennie Formby and a new NEC that supported my leadership made substantial improvements, making it much easier and swifter to remove anti-Semites. My team acted to speed up, not hinder the process.”

In response to the EHRC report, he said that “while I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period”.

But Mr Starmer – at a press conference with a backdrop stressing “a new leadership” – said: “If – after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report – there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, that it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack, then, frankly, you are part of the problem too.

“And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”

The Jewish Labour Movement said blame for the “sordid, disgraceful chapter” in the party’s history “lies firmly with those who held positions of leadership”.

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The Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Gideon Falter said: “Jeremy Corbyn and those around him who took part in, or enabled, the gaslighting, harassment and victimisation of Britain’s Jewish minority are shamed for all time.”

A joint statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust said: “This report is a damning verdict on what Labour did to Jews under Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.”

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