Keir Starmer has decided not to readmit Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour MP, arguing that the former leader has undermined efforts to restore the party’s reputation in the Jewish community.
An NEC disciplinary panel lifted the suspension of Corbyn’s party membership on Tuesday after he issued a conciliatory statement “clarifying” controversial remarks he made when the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a damning report on Labour antisemitism.
In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, Starmer said he would not be welcoming Corbyn back into the parliamentary Labour party (PLP).
“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 antisemitism,” Starmer said. “In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.”
Starmer appeared to be referring to Corbyn’s statement following the publication of the EHRC report on 29 October, in which he said the problem of antisemitism in Labour had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
In a “clarification” submitted to the NEC and made public this week, Corbyn said claims of antisemitism had not been “exaggerated”.
That appeared to satisfy the NEC disciplinary panel, which party insiders said had decided unanimously to end the suspension of Corbyn’s Labour membership.
However, it evidently did not satisfy Starmer, who repeatedly pledged during his leadership campaign to tackle the issue of antisemitism forcefully.
Labour and antisemitism
Jeremy Corbyn is elected as Labour leader, and party membership soars to over half a million.
Naz Shah, a Labour MP, is suspended after sharing a Facebook post suggesting Israel should be relocated to the United States.
Labour publishes an inquiry into antisemitism by Shami Chakrabarti, but the release is overshadowed by a row about remarks made by Corbyn in which he appeared to make a comparison between the Israeli government and Islamist extremists.
Corbyn expresses regret after it emerged he had in 2012 supported a street artist accused of producing an antisemitic mural in London’s east end.
Three days later, Corbyn issues his strongest condemnation yet of antisemitism, declaring he is “a militant opponent” of anti-Jewish hatred as members of the Jewish community organise a protest outside parliament. Corbyn makes many similar declarations in the run-up to the 2019 election.
Veteran Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge is subject to disciplinary proceedings after calling Corbyn an antisemite during an angry confrontation in the Commons chamber, after Labour chose not to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
Three Jewish newspapers produce similar front pages, criticising Labour’s decision not to adopt the IHRA definition. In a joint editorial they write that a Corbyn led government would pose an ‘existential threat to Jewish life in this country’.
Corbyn declines to apologise after footage from 2013 emerges of him saying a group of Zionists had ‘no sense of irony‘. Corbyn said he had used the term Zionist ‘in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people’.
Seven Labour MPs, including prominent Jewish member Luciana Berger, quit the party to found the short lived ChangeUK, in part accusing the party’s leadership of not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.
Labour is decisively defeated at the general election, prompting Corbyn to step down.
By Dan Sabbagh
Corbyn’s supporters had insisted party rules meant he should be automatically readmitted to the PLP, and the decision is likely to reignite the simmering civil war between Starmer and Labour leftwingers.
Starmer had already faced criticism from the Corbyn-supporting Campaign group of leftwing MPs for sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary over claims of antisemitism.
Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum and a close ally of Corbyn, said Starmer’s decision not to readmit Corbyn was obvious political interference.
“Antisemitism and the threats of legal action which can follow from charging people with it forces us to abandon the make it up as you go along approach of catch-all rules about ‘bringing the party into disrepute’,” he told the Guardian.
“Political interference has to end. An independent process will ensure that. The EHRC recommendations, all of which Keir has undertaken to implement in full, will ensure that. Refusing to restore the whip to Jeremy is just another example of political interference, a kick against inevitable change to a rule-based approach.”
Starmer appeared to repudiate the NEC’s decision, which was made under disciplinary rules being reviewed as part of the response to the EHRC report.
He said: “The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community. That became clear once again yesterday. It is the task of my leadership to 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.”
Friends of Corbyn said Starmer’s actions could have left the party open to legal challenge because the EHRC stressed the importance of disciplinary decisions being independent from political interference.
“Keir is a lawyer. Does he not realise what he is doing? It goes completely against the EHRC report,” one said.
Leftwing Labour MPs also rallied behind Corbyn, with the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell calling it “just plain wrong” and saying it would “cause more division and disunity”.
Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, welcomed the decision, and criticised the process that led to Corbyn’s readmission to party membership.
“Labour’s disciplinary process is clearly still not fit for purpose. Keir Starmer has now taken the appropriate leadership decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn,” she said. “We continue to say that ‘zero tolerance’ must mean precisely that, whether for antisemites or their apologists.”
The Labour MP Neil Coyle, who has been an outspoken critic of Corbyn’s approach to antisemitism under his leadership, said the case must be looked at by the independent process that Starmer has said he will set up under the EHRC recommendations.
“Keir is trying to deliver on his self-confessed first priority as Labour leader – to rebuild trust with the Jewish community,” he said. “The whip cannot be restored until the new, genuinely independent complaints process assesses this case and ensures a fair decision is made. This is also the legal requirement under the EHRC report; the Labour party has to do this in order to avoid further inquiry. So it is the morally right thing to do as well as the only option available.”