Tom Watson hits out at Corbyn over Chakrabarti peerage

Tom Watson hits out at Corbyn over Chakrabarti peerage

Labour's deputy leader said it was 'not great' timing and he had not been informed of the decision

Tom Watson, (Photo credit:  Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
Tom Watson, (Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Labour’s deputy leader has criticised his boss, Jeremy Corbyn, for nominating the head of the party’s anti-Semitism inquiry to the House of Lords.

Tom Watson said the timing was “not great” and revealed he had not been told of the Labour leader’s intention to nominate Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage.

The decision to give the former head of Liberty, the civil rights pressure group, a seat in the Lords has been met with fierce criticism from prominent Jews and Labour MPs.

She faced questions over her independence in the anti-Semitism investigation after she revealed she had joined the Labour Party.

Mr Watson said Ms Chakrabarti was “precisely” the sort of person who should sit in the Lords but that Mr Corbyn’s decision to nominate her alongside David Cameron’s resignation honours was a mistake.

Mr Watson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The timing is not great for the Labour Party, I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t consulted on whether Shami was going in, I didn’t know that we’d provided citations for this particular round.

“And I do think it’s a mistake because I don’t think agree with resignation honours.

“I think Labour should be very clear that this is a discretionary power that should be removed from outgoing prime ministers.

“I don’t want laws to be made in the chamber of David Cameron’s friends, I want it to be made in the chamber of people who have served their country with unprecedented distinction.”

The Chief Rabbi said the anti-Semitism report’s reputation now “lies in tatters” following Ms Chakrabarti’s appointment to the Lords just a month after the inquiry reported back.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Ephraim Mirvis said: “Shami Chakrabarti has a proud record of public service, but in accepting this peerage, the credibility of her report lies in tatters and the Labour Party’s stated intention, to unequivocally tackle anti-Semitism, remains woefully unrealised.”

Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, said: “Shami Chakrabarti will bring great experience to Lords. But let’s not pretend that a Labour peerage in these circumstances doesn’t stink.”

Ms Chakrabarti led Liberty until earlier this year and has been one of the country’s leading human rights campaigners for the last 15 years.

She was appointed to lead an independent inquiry into claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party following the suspension of MP Naz Shah and ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone.

The review found there was evidence of “ignorant attitudes” but said the “Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism”.

The report was criticised by Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush as ”weak on the demonisation of Israel” and for omitting “any mention of party figures who have displayed friendship towards terrorists”.

Commenting on the peerage, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn, said: “Shami Chakrabarti shares Jeremy’s ambition for reform of the House of Lords.

“Her career has been one of public service and human rights advocacy. Her legal and campaigning skills, and the trust that she has gained from many ordinary Britons, will be a considerable asset to the House of Lords.

“Brexit will put many hard-fought rights at risk, so it is crucial that those equipped with the right skills are given the opportunity to hold this Government to account.”

Ms Chakrabarti said: “I am honoured to accept Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge and opportunity to help hold the Government to account. This is a dangerous moment for our country and we share vital human rights values that need defending more than ever before in my lifetime.”

Marie van der Zyl, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “It is beyond disappointing that Shami Chakrabarti has been offered, and accepted, a peerage from Labour following her so-called ‘independent’ inquiry. The report, which was weak in several areas, now seems to have been rewarded with an honour.

“This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.”

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