Starmer denies Labour 'schism' and tells LBC there’s no need for 'civil war'

30 October 2020, 09:05 | Updated: 30 October 2020, 09:36

By Megan White

Sir Keir Starmer has told LBC there is no "schism" within the Labour Party and said there was no need for an internal "civil war" after Jeremy Corbyn's suspension.

Former Labour leader Mr Corbyn had the whip removed on Thursday after a damning investigation into the party’s handling of anti-Semitism, which found the party broke equality law.

The EHRC investigation found evidence of "political interference" by then leader Mr Corbyn's office in the complaints process.

Read more: Lord Mann tells LBC 'best thing' Corbyn could do is retire after suspension from Labour

Sir Keir told LBC's Nick Ferrari that "minimising" anti-Semitism is "part of the problem" after he withdrew the whip from Mr Corbyn on Thursday.

He said he had "hoped we could draw a line in the sand" after the publication of the report on Thursday but it "didn't go to plan" after Mr Corbyn's statement.

Mr Corbyn rejected some of the equality watchdog's findings and claimed the issue had been "dramatically overstated for political reasons" by his critics - a stance that put him at odds with his successor Sir Keir Starmer and led to him having the whip removed on Thursday.

Sir Keir told LBC: "I was very clear in my response to the report that the Labour Party I lead will not tolerate anti-Semitism, nor will it tolerate the argument that there isn't really any anti-Semitism, it's all exaggerated or factional, because that's part of the problem.

"On top of the grief that's already been caused, to respond to the report by saying 'oh well it's exaggerated, it's just factional stuff' adds to that grief and I made that very clear in my response.

"I had spoken to Jeremy Corbyn the night before the report and there'd been further conversations yesterday morning, so Jeremy's team knew very well where I was going with this - no anti-Semitism, no denial or minimising which is part of the problem, and therefore when I saw his response I was really disappointed in that response to these very serious findings by an independent body."

Asked if he was concerned over reports Mr Corbyn had assembled a "council of war" with his allies on Thursday evening, Sir Keir said: "I don't know about that, but I would say to everyone in the Labour Party that there is no need for a war or a split on this.

"The vast majority of our members and supporters were shocked by the report's findings yesterday and want us to move on in a constructive way implementing the recommendations, that's what should be focused on, that is the way to unite the party."

Interim chairwoman 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 watchdog identified three breaches of the Equality Act relating to political interference in complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism cases, and harassment.

The party has been served with an unlawful act notice and has been given until December 10 to draft an action plan to implement the report's recommendations. The notice is legally enforceable by the courts if not fulfilled.

The EHRC concluded that the lack of training for people handling anti-Semitism complaints indirectly discriminated against Jewish members until August 2020, by which time Sir Keir Starmer was leader of the party.

Labour has committed to proper training, with the EHRC recommending it should be mandatory and fully implemented within six months.

Recommendations made by the watchdog include commissioning an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints.

The EHRC's lead investigator Alasdair Henderson told a press conference that blame could not be placed on one person alone and the problem went beyond Mr Corbyn, but added that "as leader of the party, and with evidence of political interference from within his office, he does have a responsibility ultimately for those failings".

The Jewish Labour Movement said blame for the "sordid, disgraceful chapter" in the party's history "lies firmly with those who held positions of leadership".

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the report was a "historic nadir for the Labour Party".