Jeremy Corbyn hits back over spy claims, warning 'billionaire tax exile' newspaper owners 'change is coming'

Labour leader says stories about his Cold War-era meetings with Czech agent are proof media bosses fear him becoming prime minister

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 20 February 2018 19:28
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Jeremy Corbyn hits back at communist spy claims

Jeremy Corbyn has issued a stark warning to “billionaire tax exile” owners of newspapers that published claims he was a Czech informant during the Cold War, telling them they are “right” to fear the prospect of a Labour government.

The Labour leader called the allegations “ridiculous smears” and said Labour would take action to “open up” the media.

He hit out at newspaper bosses following days of allegations about his meetings with Jan Sarkocy, a Czech agent, in the 1980s.

Mr Corbyn admitted to meeting the spy but said he believed the man was a diplomat. Both he and Czech security officials have dismissed Mr Sarkocy’s claims that the MP was a paid informant of Czech intelligence services during the Cold War. The former agent also claimed he was personally involved in organising the 1985 Live Aid concern.

It comes after Mr Corbyn’s deputy, Tom Watson, wrote exclusively for The Independent accusing “right-wing” newspapers of propagating “false and ridiculous smears” in an attempt to boost falling sales.

Mr Watson said: “Newspaper proprietors in this country abuse their power.

“It’s a unique kind of self-harm for a newspaper to print a story they know is poorly sourced, decide to run it regardless because it suits their political agenda, and pass it off as news

In a new video released on social media, Mr Corbyn dismissed the allegations against him and said they were proof that newspaper proprietors are scared of the prospect of a Labour government.

He said: “In the last few days, The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have all gone a little bit James Bond.

“They've found a former Czechoslovakian spy whose claims are increasingly wild and entirely false.

“He seems to believe I kept him informed about what Margaret Thatcher had for breakfast and says he was responsible for either Live Aid or the Mandela Concert - or maybe both.”

The Labour leader added: “It’s easy to laugh, but something more serious is happening. Publishing these ridiculous smears that have been refuted by Czech officials shows just how worried the media bosses are by the prospect of a Labour government.

“They’re right to be. Labour will stand up to the powerful and corrupt - and take the side of the many, not the few.”

The controversy began when The Sun newspaper uncovered files in Czech archives that appeared to show the current Labour leader had met with the Czechoslovakian agent at least three times in 1986 and 1987.

Mr Corbyn admits to the meetings but insists he thought Mr Sarkocy was a diplomat, and strongly denies giving him any information.

The story has rumbled on for almost a week, with other senior Labour figures also being implicated, despite Mr Sarkocy being unable to provide any evidence for most of his claims.

In a strongly-worded attack on the newspapers that had published the claims, Mr Corbyn said: “A free press is essential for democracy and we don’t want to close it down, we want to open it up. At the moment, much of our press isn’t very free at all. In fact it’s controlled by billionaire tax exiles, who are determined to dodge paying their fair share for our vital public services.

“The General Election showed the media barons are losing their influence and social media means their bad old habits are becoming less and less relevant, but instead of learning these lessons they're continuing to resort to lies and smears.

“Their readers - you, all of us - deserve so much better. Well, we’ve got news for them: change is coming.”

Labour’s manifesto at the last general election committed to commencing part two of the Leveson Inquiry, which would focus on the “corporate governance failures that allowed the hacking scandal to occur”.

The party said it would also carry out a review “to safeguard a healthy plurality of media ownership and to put in place clearer rules on who is fit and proper to own or run TV and radio stations”.

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