LONDON (AFP) — The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour party on Wednesday refused to readmit his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn to its parliamentary ranks, intensifying a row over anti-Semitism.
Keir Starmer was elected leader in April, taking over from veteran left-winger Corbyn after his thumping election defeat to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives last December.
Starmer has vowed to root out anti-Semitism in the party that opponents alleged went unchecked and flourished under Corbyn, and saw Jewish members and lawmakers leave in droves.
But six months into the job, the row — and bitter factional infighting between Corbyn supporters and moderates — shows no sign of abating.
Last month, a report by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found Labour under Corbyn had broken the law in its “inexcusable” handling of anti-Semitism complaints.
But in defiance of the party’s new leadership under Starmer, Corbyn had refused to accept all its findings and questioned the motives of the two-year independent probe.
He insisted 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.”
That prompted his immediate suspension pending an internal investigation, and the “whip” was withdrawn, meaning he could not sit with other Labour MPs in the House of Commons.
But in an unusually rapid process, his party membership was restored on Tuesday by a party disciplinary panel following a more conciliatory statement from the former leader.
Starmer nevertheless said he was not prepared to allow the socialist campaigner back into Labour’s parliamentary ranks, after tempers flared again over the panel’s decision.
“I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn,” he tweeted. “The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community.
“That became clear once again yesterday.”
Starmer stressed that as leader of the parliamentary party, the decision on which MPs could retain the whip was his and separate from the question of Corbyn’s Labour membership.
“Since I was elected Labour leader, I have made it my mission to root out anti-Semitism from the Labour Party. I know that I will judged on my actions, not my words.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle anti-Semitism.”
Starmer said he would “fix what I have inherited.”
“That is what I am resolute in doing and I have asked for an independent process to be established as soon as possible,” he added.
Since I was elected Labour leader, I have made it my mission to root out antisemitism from the Labour Party.
I know that I will judged on my actions, not my words.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) November 18, 2020
Party grandee Margaret Hodge, a former government minister who has openly criticized Corbyn and had called for a motion of no confidence in his leadership, called it a “broken outcome.”
Reports suggested she may quit the party altogether while Labour-affiliated Jewish groups accused the disciplinary panel of partisanship.
Labour Against Antisemitism welcomed the block on Corbyn in parliament but said restoring his membership “ignored and failed” the Jewish community.
“Until an independent complaints process is introduced, and all historical cases of anti-Semitism from 2015 onwards are reviewed in full, the Labour party will not be a safe space for British Jews,” said spokeswoman Fiona Sharpe.
Corbyn ally Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite that is Labour’s largest trade union affiliate, called his readmission the “correct, fair and unifying decision.”