Jeremy Corbyn casts doubt on impartiality of watchdog investigating Labour antisemitism claims

Equality and Human Rights Commission deliberately underfunded to ‘make it part of the government machine’, ex-leader alleges

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 01 June 2020 18:26 BST
Jeremy Corbyn refuses in a TV interview with Andrew Neil to apologise for his handling of antisemitism

Jeremy Corbyn has cast doubt on the impartiality of the watchdog investigating whether Labour was antisemitic under his leadership, ahead of its crucial report.

Ministers had underfunded the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) “to take away its independent status and make it part of the government machine”, the former party leader claimed.

Asked whether he believed that lack of independence would influence the EHRC’s upcoming report on Labour antisemitism, Mr Corbyn replied: “Let’s see what happens.”

The interview, with Middle East Eye, was fiercely criticised by the organisation Labour Against Antisemitism, which described it as “unacceptable”.

“By apparently appearing to invent a bizarre conspiracy theory about Conservative underfunding of this independent and highly-respected body, Mr Corbyn has once again brought the Labour Party into disrepute,” said Euan Philipps, its spokesperson.

The group “urged Keir Starmer to issue a statement reiterating his support for the EHRC and for the findings of its investigation”.

It is more than a year since the EHRC began its formal investigation into whether Labour has “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people” from the Jewish community.

The controversy dogged Mr Corbyn and inflicted huge damage during last year’s disastrous general election campaign, which triggered his resignation.

In the interview, he also dismissed allegations that he had tolerated antisemitism as “wrong and extremely unfair” and claimed credit for putting in place more robust processes to tackle the issue.

On the EHRC, he said: “I think it’s quite significant that the Conservative government has underfunded the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”

He added that “for some reason, which I don’t fully understand” it had “decided to take away its independent status and make it part of the government machine”.

The new Labour leader was quick to dismiss the claim, underlining his determination to rebuild the confidence of Jewish people in Labour after the damage wrought by the Corbyn years.

A spokesperson for the Labour Party said: “We fully respect the independence of the EHRC. Keir Starmer has made clear he will cooperate fully with the commission’s inquiry. We will implement, in full, any recommendations made by the EHRC.”

Mr Corbyn’s comments came after over 100 mosques and 40 imams wrote a letter accusing the EHRC of a “dereliction of responsibilities” over its refusal to investigate allegations of Islamophobia within the Conservative party.

The letter queried whether the EHRC was too close to the Tory party, noting that two board members held positions at a law firm, Pinsent Masons, which has advised the Conservative government.

Mr Corbyn was also asked about the recently leaked report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints, which alleged that anti-Corbyn staff had undermined the process.

“I always knew that there was a culture in the Labour Party that was not a healthy one, of an almost self-perpetuating bureaucracy. All organisations have a degree of self-perpetuating bureaucracy about them,” he said.

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