Former Tory minister Sir Eric Pickles has said the Labour Party is burying its head in the sand over anti-Semitism in the party, and was “in denial” over the problem.

Pickles, who is now chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, was reacting to comments made by Labour’s Shadow Attorney-General Baroness Shami Chakrabarti while at Oxford Union this week.

The barrister and human rights champion led an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party earlier this year, delivering a series of recommendations, but which some Jewish communal leaders described as a “whitewash”.

Addressing the debate chamber, Chakrabarti said: “By the way, I don’t believe Labour is much worse than any other party, but I’m not getting into the competition.”

Her comments drew an angry response from Pickles, who said: “It is absolutely disgraceful and frankly extremely worrying that Jeremy Corbyn and his frontbench are still in denial about the Labour Party’s problem with anti-Semitism.

“Allegations of anti-Semitic incidents made against Labour Party members and MPs, together with the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report earlier this year, have made absolutely clear that there is a very real issue to be dealt with.

“The Leader of the Labour Party and his team has a duty to pull their heads out of the sand, face up to this reality and take action to stamp it out once and for all.”