Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the readmission of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn to the party just weeks after he was suspended marked “another painful day for the Jewish community”.
Sir Keir said he would “not allow a focus on one individual to prevent us from doing the vital work of tackling antisemitism” and vowed to make the Labour Party “a safe place for Jewish people”.
But he came under fire over the National Executive Committee’s decision to readmit Mr Corbyn to the party, and for failing to say whether he would restore the whip.
Sir Keir restated his criticism of Mr Corbyn’s response last month to a damning Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report which found that Labour had broken the law in its handling of antisemitism complaints.
Mr Corbyn’s claim that the scale of antisemitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and “much of the media” led to him being suspended and having the whip withdrawn.
The former opposition leader later sought to clarify the remarks, but his reinstatement – decided at a meeting of the disputes committee of the party’s ruling NEC on Tuesday – has been met with fierce opposition.
Sir Keir tweeted: “I know that this has been another painful day for the Jewish community and those Labour members who have fought so hard to tackle antisemitism. I know the hurt that has been caused and the trauma people have felt.
I know that this has been another painful day for the Jewish community and those Labour members who have fought so hard to tackle antisemitism.
I know the hurt that has been caused and the trauma people have felt.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) November 17, 2020
“Jeremy Corbyn’s statement in response to the EHRC report was wrong and completely distracted from a report that identified unlawful conduct in our tackling of racism within the Labour Party. This should shame us all.
“I will not allow a focus on one individual to prevent us from doing the vital work of tackling antisemitism. When I stood as leader of the Labour Party, I was clear that my first priority would be to root out antisemitism. It still is.
“I know we have a long way to go, but I am absolutely resolute in my determination to make the Labour Party a safe place for Jewish people. I stand by the commitments I made last month to accept the findings and the recommendations of the EHRC’s report in full.
“That must mean establishing an independent complaints process as soon as possible in the New Year. This is my commitment and my promise to our party, the Jewish community and the British people.”
It is understood no decision has been taken on whether to restore the Labour whip to the former leader – meaning he will continue to sit as an independent MP despite now being a party member.
His comments came shortly after Mr Corbyn tweeted: “I am pleased to have been reinstated in the Labour Party and would like to thank party members, trade unionists and all who have offered solidarity,” the Islington North MP wrote on Twitter.
“Our movement must now come together to oppose and defeat this deeply damaging Conservative government.”
His reinstatement sparked a backlash from Jewish MPs and societies, including Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge.
She said she could not “comprehend” why it is acceptable for Mr Corbyn to be a Labour MP “if he thinks antisemitism is exaggerated and a political attack”.
Dame Margaret tweeted: “This is a broken outcome from a broken system. A factional, opaque and dysfunctional complaints process could never reach a fair conclusion. This is exactly why the EHRC instructed Labour to setup an independent process!”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the decision to reinstate him was a “retrograde step for the party in its relations with the Jewish community” and warned that “Labour’s mountain to climb to win back the trust of our community just got higher”.
Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, claimed Mr Corbyn’s suspension was “nothing more than a media stunt to blunt the blow” of the EHRC report.
The Jewish Labour Movement said it appeared the former party leader’s case had been “expedited” by a “factionally aligned political committee”.
Labour MP Neil Coyle, a prominent critic of Mr Corbyn, suggested the EHRC “may not be done” with the party after his readmittance.
Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling said Sir Keir’s statement “addresses nothing” as she asked whether he would restore the whip. “This isn’t new leadership, this is no leadership,” she tweeted.
However, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, a close ally of Mr Corbyn, said the former leader’s readmission was the “correct, fair and unifying decision”.
“As a party we now move forward to implement the EHRC’s recommendations and redouble our efforts to inspire voters about Keir’s 10 pledges… and the transformation of our nations into fairer places for our people,” he tweeted.
“Only Labour, united and strong, can bring this about.”
Mr Corbyn had claimed that while “one antisemite is one too many” the “scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
He was suspended after Sir Keir said people who believed it was “exaggerated, or a factional attack” were “part of the problem” and “should be nowhere near the Labour Party either”.
But Mr Corbyn acknowledged ahead of a meeting of the NEC disputes committee on Tuesday that concerns around antisemitism in Labour were not “exaggerated”.
He revealed he had given a statement to the party in an attempt to “clear up any confusion” over his initial response and a broadcast interview given in the wake of the report.
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