Keir Starmer vowed to rid Labour of anti-Semitism and rebuild trust in the party after a damning report yesterday accused it of discriminating against Jews.
The leader immediately suspended Jeremy Corbyn when his predecessor refused to accept all the findings by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigations – which he claimed were “overstated”.
He became the first former head to be suspended, while an internal probe into his behaviour is carried out.
Mr Starmer’s decisive move was a display of his determination to try to draw a line under the anti-Semitism row that has plagued the party under its previous leadership.
It was also in stark contrast to Mr Corbyn’s time in office, where many critics accused him of sitting on the fence over issues.
And it was hoped his tough stance will reinstate trust in the party after it was abandoned by the bulk of support in red wall areas at the last election.
But it also sparked fears of a civil war between the left and centrists.
A spokesman for Mr Starmer said Mr Corbyn was suspended after a “failure to retract” his comments about the investigation. And a Shadow Cabinet insider said the move left the leader with no choice but to act.
Mr Starmer said: “I made it clear that we won’t tolerate anti-Semitism or the denial of anti-Semitism through the suggestion that it’s exaggerated or factional, and that’s why I was disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s response and that is why appropriate action has been taken.
“I made a very clear commitment to root out anti-Semitism and I’m going to follow through on that commitment. We cannot say ‘zero tolerance’ and then turn a blind eye.”
The Shadow Cabinet insider added: “This is an essential step to rebuilding trust and ousting the Tories.
“We’ve four years to go to the next election but this is the type of action we needed and people will remember it when we go to the polls.
The 130-page report said it found “significant failings in the way Labour handled anti-Semitism complaints over the last four years” with “specific examples of harassment, discrimination and interference.”
It claimed there was a “lack of leadership on these issues” which was “hard to reconcile with its stated commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism”.
And it said the party had committed three major breaches of equalities law and has been given until December 10 to act on recommendations or find itself in court.
Jewish Labour Movement chair Dame Margaret Hodge claimed Jeremy Corbyn was in “permanent denial”.
But Mr Corbyn said: “One anti-Semite is one too many, but 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.
“Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it and I regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should.”
And he branded the move to strip him of the party whip a “political intervention”.
Mr Corbyn could be the first former leader to be expelled from the party since Ramsay Macdonald in 1931, who was forced out after forming a government with Tories and Liberals without support.
But left-wing members of Labour’s NEC last night suggested they may launch a legal challenge to the authority of Labour’s General Secretary David Evans to suspend Mr Corbyn.
And around £10,000 flooded in to a legal fund previously set up by supporters of the former leader that had already raised more than £300,000.
Floods of left-wingers also quit the party in protest at Mr Corbyn’s suspension.
The unprecedented EHRC probe was launched in May 2019.
It found two unlawful acts – use of anti-Semitic tropes and suggestion that complaints of anti-Semitism were fake or a smear – by Rossendale councillor Pam Bromley and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
Ms Bromley said she was considering legal action against the EHRC. And Mr Livingstone claimed he had not been invited to comment on the accusations.
The EHRC carried out an analysis of a sample of 70 complaints, 58 selected from more than 220 submissions from different groups including the Jewish Labour Movement and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the remaining 12 from the Labour Party.
Mr Corbyn was not censured by the report, as the EHRC investigates organisations and not individuals.
A snap poll by YouGov found that 58% of the public backed the call to suspend the Islington MP.