The Labour Party breached equality law in its “inadequate” handling of anti-Semitism cases, a damning official report ruled today.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found Jeremy Corbyn ’s office unlawfully “politically interfered” with almost two dozen alleged cases – including of Ken Livingstone and the leader himself.
Keir Starmer apologised on “the day of shame” and vowed to act after the watchdog found “serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process” for dealing with complaints.
It added: “Although some improvements have been made to the process for dealing with antisemitism complaints, it is hard not to conclude that antisemitism within the Labour Party could have been tackled more effectively if the leadership had chosen to do so.”
Today’s 130-page report reignited Labour’s civil war as Jeremy Corbyn accused his “opponents” of exaggerating anti-Semitism despite the damning finding.
It did not find personal anti-Semitism on the part of Jeremy Corbyn. No criminal law was broken by Labour.
But it found Labour was responsible for three civil law breaches of the Equality Act:
- Political interference in anti-Semitism complaints, including by the leader’s office;
- Failure to provide adequate training to those handling complaints;
- Harassment through two high-profile members who made anti-Semitic statements, including Mr Livingstone.
The report found unlawful political interference in anti-Semitism complaints “throughout the period of the investigation”. In a sample of 70 complaint files, investigators found “23 instances of political interference by LOTO (Leader of the Opposition) staff and others.”
That included a complaint against Jeremy Corbyn himself over an anti-Semitic mural he had commented on in 2012.
In an email, his office’s staff said the complaint should be dismissed because it “seems to fall well below the threshold required for investigation”.
Mr Corbyn today said “I do not accept” all the EHRC’s findings and claimed “my team acted to speed up, not hinder the process.”
Failing to apologise in a defiant 270-word statement, he said “of course” there is anti-Semitism in the party but turned his fire on “opponents” and the media for exaggerating the problem.
“One antisemite 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,” he wrote.
But new leader Keir Starmer hit back – explosively saying those who make such comments did not belong in the Labour Party.
Sir Keir told a press conference: “If after all the pain all the grief and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, that it’s all exaggerated or a factional attack, then frankly you are part of the problem too – and you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”
Asked directly if he was saying Mr Corbyn didn’t belong in Labour he said ”I’ll look carefully at what Jeremy Corbyn has said in full,” but added: “Those who deny there’s a problem are part of the problem.”
Asked if he’d reopen cases involving Mr Corbyn himself, Sir Keir replied: “We’ll look at all cases.”
Sir Keir today praised the “comprehensive, rigorous and professional” report for uncovering unlawful acts, declaring: “The report’s conclusions are clear and stark. They leave no room for equivocation.”
Vowing to implement all its recommendations in full, including an independent complaints process, Sir Keir added: “I found this report hard to read and it is a day of shame for the Labour Party.
“We have failed Jewish people, our members and the British public. And so on behalf of the Labour Party, I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused.”
Alasdair Henderson, Board member lead for the investigation at the EHRC, said Mr Corbyn’s claim that his team acted to speed up the process was valid, but still undermined the process.
The report also found Labour committed “unlawful harassment” due to the actions of two “agents” – one of whom is former mayor of London Ken Livingstone.
The ex-mayor accused ‘the Israel lobby’ of a smear campaign to stigmatise critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, the EHRC said. The watchdog today found his comments were “anti-Semitic” and “had the effect of harassing Labour Party members” – and Labour was responsible for them because Mr Livingstone was a high-profile party figure.
His statements “had the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for members, and prospective members, of the Labour Party, particularly those who were Jewish”, the EHRC added.
His case appeared to be one of those interfered with by the leader’s office, the EHRC revealed. “There is evidence of LOTO staff being directly involved in the decision to investigate the second complaint of antisemitism made against Ken Livingstone,” the watchdog said.
“The Labour Party confirmed to us that a decision to ‘go to Disputes’, that is, to the NEC Disputes Panel, which was described as having been made ‘higher up’, was likely to refer to the decision having been made by LOTO and the General Secretary’s Office (GSO).
“It therefore appears that LOTO staff, and potentially GSO staff, interfered in the decision to investigate the conduct of Ken Livingstone.”
Mr Livingstone, who has always denied his comments were anti-Semitic, did not comment to the EHRC.
The second incident of “harassment” was by then-councillor Pam Bromley, who wrote online that anti-Semitism claims were “fake” and “now capitalism has got what it wanted”.
The two cases were only “the tip of the iceberg”, said Mr Henderson. There were many other cases, including 18 “borderline” cases, where conduct was anti-Semitic but the members did not hold a formal role so Labour could not be legally responsible.
The EHRC’s interim chair Caroline Waters said there had been “inexcusable” failures which “appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle anti-Semitism rather than an inability to do so”.
The EHRC added: “We found evidence of a significant number of complaints relating to antisemitism that were not investigated at all.
“This is especially true for complaints about social media activity where the Labour Party previously adopted a policy of not investigating mere ‘likes’ or reposts.
“Where matters were investigated, the guidance on appropriate sanctions was unclear and inconsistent.”
Mr Henderson told journalists: “What is clear from our evidence is the Labour Party is not living up to its commitment of zero tolerance of antisemitism and that this represents a serious failure of leadership.”
However, EHRC executive director Alastair Pringle added: “In the samples we analysed, we didn’t find Jeremy Corbyn responsible for any unlawful acts of antisemitism.”
The EHRC said there was poor administration of complaints, with documents missing in 62 out of 70 cases, and the inbox for complaints was not monitored for periods of time.
Labour has 6 weeks to draft an action plan, agreed with the EHRC, which will be legally enforceable.
Asked if Corbyn should be blamed, Mr Henderson said it went beyond the role of the former leader.
But he added: “As leader of the party, with evidence of political interference from within his office, he does have a responsibility ultimately for those failings.”
Asked about the leader’s office, Mr Henderson said there were periods last summer and in early autumn where “we were seriously concerned about their commitment to work with us”. He said it was “very disappointing that we found those obstructions”
Mr Pringle pointed to refusals from Labour to hand over Whatsapp messages. And Mr Henderson added: “Did it give us some frustration because it caused delay? Yes.”
Asked if Mr Corbyn was right that the problem had been dramatically overstated, Mr Henderson said: “I can only take you back to the findings of our reports and ask you to compare them.
“So we found two specific unlawful acts, 18 more in the sample that we found, and as I said, that’s the tip of the iceberg.”
Asked why the phrase ‘institutionally antisemitic’ was not in the report, Mr Henderson said the EHRC do not use or define the term in their work. “That shouldn’t detract from the importance of our findings”, he added.
The human rights body launched its probe in May 2019 to look into the party’s disciplinary processes and response to complaints.
It came after years of complaints over how allegations of anti-Semitism were dealt with under Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
In February 2019 it emerged just 12 members had been expelled, at that point, out of 663 who had anti-Semitism complaints lodged against them.
And high-profile investigations dragged on for years, including against former mayor of London Ken Livingstone who quit before a resolution.
Mr Corbyn’s allies blamed slow disciplinary measures under previous general secretary Iain McNicol and claimed his ally, Jennie Formby, improved them.
And his supporters repeatedly claimed complaints were being highlighted by people who were already enemies of Mr Corbyn to undermine his leadership.
But Jewish groups and campaigners said the ex-leader’s failings went beyond the way members were investigated.
Critics said some supporters of Mr Corbyn blurred the lines between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic tropes of Jews’ power and wealth.
A rapid report by human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti in 2016 said there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” in the party but added: “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.”
Yet that report was branded a “whitewash” as Baroness Chakrabarti was offered a peerage by Jeremy Corbyn just weeks later.
And pressure began building once more on the leadership – reaching a peak in summer 2018 with recriminations and a protest in Parliament Square.
In March 2018 Mr Corbyn expressed “sincere regret” for protesting, in 2012, against the removal of a mural which showed hook-nosed figures playing Monopoly on the backs of naked men.
The then-leader said he had not looked closely at the mural and therefore did not realise it was anti-Semitic.
Fresh anger erupted that summer when he refused to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
While Labour adopted the definition itself, it stopped short of adopting four IHRA examples of anti-Semitism, including claiming Israel is a “racist endeavour”.
After a summer-long row, Labour U-turned and adopted the four examples – but with a caveat they they would not undermine free expression on Israel.
Some MPs including Luciana Berger quit the party and joined other groups, saying Mr Corbyn had not done enough to deal with the issue.
Veteran MP Margaret Hodge confronted Mr Corbyn in the Commons in July 2018 and accused him of being a “racist and an anti-Semite”.
Yet Labour responded by warning Dame Margaret she would face disciplinary action. The threat was later dropped after an outcry.
Meanwhile earlier this year Labour agreed to pay “substantial damages” to whistleblowers who contributed to a TV expose of its handling of anti-Semitism.
The party said it had made “defamatory and false allegations” that the ex-staffers who spoke to BBC Panorama were politically motivated.
Mr Corbyn said it was “disappointing” that the party under Sir Keir had settled the claim, adding that it was a “political decision, not a legal one”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said last night the anti-Semitism row had been a “shameful” period in the party’s history.
And Labour foreign secretary David Miliband said that the way Mr Corbyn dealt with the situation was “appalling” and described the period as a “dreadful, dark, shameful period”.
He told Times Radio: “I’m not going to claim I know what’s in Jeremy Corbyn’s heart. What I’m clear about is that he failed to deal with this issue in a way that was appalling in all its aspects.
“Whether it be cartoons or statements, they reflected a complete blindness to the issue and to the importance of it.”
Mr Corbyn’s ex-aide Karie Murphy insisted the party removed anti-Semites “more quickly, transparently and effectively than ever before” during his tenure.
A draft version of the EHRC report was sent to Labour in July as, under the Equality Act 2010, the subject of an investigation by the commission must be given at least 28 days in order to make representations of its findings before the final report is released.