Jeremy Corbyn has rejected the overall conclusions of a report on antisemitism in Labour, saying the problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and the media – a statement that sets him at odds with Keir Starmer.
In a Facebook post responding to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, which found Labour responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination over antisemitism, the former Labour leader said he had been obstructed by party officials in trying to tackle the issue. However, he expressed regret that “it took longer to deliver that change than it should”.
The report does not lay blame directly with Corbyn but the EHRC’s lead investigator, Alasdair Henderson, said the failure of leadership must ultimately stop with him.
“As the leader of the party at the time, and given the extent of the failings we found in the political interference within the leader of the opposition’s office, Jeremy Corbyn is ultimately accountable and responsible for what happened at that time,” Henderson said.
Corbyn’s argument that the problem was exaggerated for factional reasons places him on a potential collision path with Starmer, who said in his response to the report that those who made such arguments were “part of the problem”.
Asked about Corbyn’s response to the report, Starmer told reporters he would “look carefully” at his predecessor’s comments.
Corbyn said in his statement: “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.
“That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated. My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome. While I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period.”
The EHRC launched its inquiry after complaints about antisemitism within Labour during Corbyn’s time as leader. The report cites “serious failings in the Labour party leadership in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints”.
Corbyn said that when he took over as Labour leader in 2015, “the party’s processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose”. He added: “Reform was then stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy.”
Corbyn argued that from 2018 the party’s new general secretary, Jennie Formby, and his officials “made substantial improvements, making it much easier and swifter to remove antisemites. My team acted to speed up, not hinder the process.”
He said: “Anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour party is wrong. Of course there is, as there is throughout society, and sometimes it is voiced by people who think of themselves as on the left. 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.”
In a separate response, Formby also said the party had sought to speed up the process of dealing with complaints about antisemitism, while accepting mistakes.
“Under Jeremy Corbyn’s initiative, we brought reforms to conference which were passed by Labour members and affiliates that enabled rapid expulsions,” she said. “Mistakes were made along the way, and of course I wish we could have made the reforms more quickly, although some of them required rule changes which are necessarily slow.
“But the record shows that as a result of the changes we made, Labour’s previously unfit processes were transformed, becoming more rapid, robust and more independent than any other political party.”
Calling on Starmer to implement the EHRC’s recommendations, she said: “I hope that this continued work can rebuild relations with the Jewish community and mend the hurt and pain that has been caused.”