LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Labour opposition suspended its former leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday after he downplayed a report that detailed serious failings in the party’s handling of persistent anti-Semitism complaints during his 2015-2019 leadership.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it had found evidence of failure to adequately train people investigating alleged anti-Semitism, political interference in the processing of complaints, and harassment of individuals.
Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, said he accepted the findings in full.
“It is a day of shame for the Labour Party. We have failed Jewish people… I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused,” he said. “Never again will we fail to tackle anti-Semitism and never again will we lose your trust.”
Starmer has been trying to make a clean break from the hard-left Corbyn era as he seeks to turn around Labour’s fortunes after four successive general election defeats since 2010.
But the ruling Conservatives were quick to attack Starmer on Thursday, pointing out that as Labour’s Brexit policy chief under Corbyn, he had worked closely with him and campaigned for him to be prime minister.
“Many people will rightly worry about your failure to speak out and challenge the Labour leadership at the time,” senior minister Michael Gove wrote in an open letter to Starmer.
Corbyn, 71, reacted to the EHRC report by saying the scale of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem had been overstated by the media and his political opponents, and his attempts to deal with the issue had been blocked by “obstructive party bureaucracy”.
Labour suspended him over the comments, a move Corbyn denounced as a political intervention which he said he would strongly contest.
Corbyn’s suspension is likely to complicate Starmer’s job as leader by reigniting factionalism in the party.
Labour is deeply divided among those who passionately favour Corbyn’s left-wing agenda and those who yearn for a return to a more centrist stance as seen from 1997 to 2010, when Labour was in government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Former Labour lawmakers who had left the party after suffering anti-Semitic abuse during the Corbyn years welcomed the ex-leader’s suspension, as did the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation representing the Jewish community.
“His shameless comments today showed that he remains part of the problem and is an obstruction to the resolution of the issue,” President Marie van der Zyl said.
A veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights who spent decades as an obscure lawmaker on the left-wing fringes of the party, Corbyn shocked the establishment by winning the Labour leadership contest in 2015.
But critics said his ascent led to a surge of anti-Semitic abuse within the party, with the lines between opposition to Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice becoming blurred.
Corbyn resigned after Labour suffered a heavy defeat by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in last year’s December general election, with Starmer taking over earlier this year.
(Additional reporting by Sarah Young and Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison)