Lord Falconer won’t lead Labour antisemitism review if EHRC probes party

Lord Falconer won’t lead Labour antisemitism review if EHRC probes party

EXCLUSIVE: Former Lord Chancellor puts plans on hold and tells Jewish News he would welcome equalities watchdog investigation

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer has told Labour chiefs he won’t take on a probe into the party’s handling of antisemitism while the equalities watchdog is looking into the issue.

The former Lord Chancellor had been asked by the party to conduct a review and was in the process of finalising terms when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission announced yesterday action that could lead to a formal investigation.

Speaking exclusively to the Jewish News, he said: “In light of the commission coming in, I think we’ve got to put it on hold, see what the Commission is going to do. If they are minded to do an investigation, they will have a range of statutory powers to get documents, emails, Whatsapp messages and witnesses, and they will do an investigation that will be completely independent from the Labour Party.

“So there is no point in me, with my firm of solicitors, coming in and doing exactly the same thing because it won’t carry the same degree of statutory support as the commission has.”

After complaints from the Jewish Labour Movement and Campaign against Antisemitism, the EHRC has said the party “may have unlawfully discriminated against people based on their ethnicity and religious belief” – a claim Labour has vigorously denied while pledging to cooperate with the watchdog. Lord Falconer said the EHRC “may well” move to an official probe – a move he would “welcome” to shine a much-needed “bright light” on how officials have dealt with disciplinary cases.

Falconer previously told the Sunday Times who has claimed that Jeremy Corbyn could not enter Number 10 while the antisemitism crisis rumbled on but Jewish MP Margaret Hodge led criticism of the potential appointment, saying a Labour peer could not be sufficiently independent. Since then, confidence in the process has been further undermined by claims of political interference from the leader’s office and his allies in disciplinary decisions.

Ruth Smeeth sad the process “clearly isn’t independent”, while Wes Streeting took to Twitter to say it was “crystal clear members of staff in Corbyn’s office directed Labour Party staff on how to handle cases”. Labour claimed cases of HQ seeking advice from political appointees were limited and part of a process since overhauled.

Falconer said he was “very concerned” by the revelations but they had not put him off his intention to take on the job if he was given sufficient resource. On the contrary, he said: “The recent revelations made it all the more important to me that there be as bright a light shone on what was going on as possible.”

He added: “The party had been cooperative in relation to the things I was asking for. We hadn’t reached a final conclusion on resources but by and large, progress was been made so they had agreed that I could see everything and they agreed that I could have some assistance. The reason I’m not doing it is do with there being a statutory body possibly coming. They haven’t committed to doing an investigation yet, but it may be well that they will.”

The peer, who served in the cabinet under Tony Blair, said there would “definitely” still be a job for him to do if the EHRC does not hold a formal probe. “Then it would be incredibly important for there to be as bright a light as possible through the disciplinary process. If the commission come in, that will happen and I would welcome that,” he said.

The CAA’s Joe Glasman said: ““Lord Falconer is right to let the Equality and Human Rights Commission get on with its work. He had already made up his mind on crucial issues, declaring that he would not be criticising Labour’s leadership and even defending Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to the removal of the notorious antisemitic mural in Tower Hamlets. The last thing that we need is another inadequate review by a Labour peer, which is why we are pleased that the Commission has decided to act on our referral and investigate the Labour Party.

“The Commission has the power to compel the Party to produce any evidence it requires, and the authority to force the Party to act. Lord Falconer could never have had those powers, nor could we have had confidence in him to investigate the Party’s antisemitism problem impartially and comprehensively, as we are confident that the Commission will.”

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