UK's Labour Party is facing allegations that anti-Semitism was allowed to fester under the 2015-2019 leadership of former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

UK opposition Labour party former leader Jeremy Corbyn takes part in a press conference in London on November 27, 2019.
UK opposition Labour party former leader Jeremy Corbyn takes part in a press conference in London on November 27, 2019. (AFP)

Former leader of Britain's main opposition party, the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been suspended from the party after a government watchdog ruled it had broken equality law in its handling of anti-Semitism complaints during his tenure.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report found that the Labour party was responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act.

The report said there were failings by Labour's leadership, political interference into complaints and it found the party responsible for acts of harassment and discrimination. 

Labour has faced allegations that anti-Semitism was allowed to fester under the 2015-2019 leadership of Corbyn, a long-time supporter of Palestinians and a critic of Israel.

Corbyn has been suspended from the party following his response to the report in an interview on Thursday morning where he said the report's findings were "dramatically overstated."

The former leader insisted that he was not "part of the problem" and said he did everything he could do to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.

Corbyn vowed to "strongly contest" his suspension, potentially reopening the party's civil war between left- and right-wingers just as it makes inroads in opinion polls over the Conservative government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

"In the light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation," a spokesperson said.

He said that Corbyn, who has continued to sit as a member of parliament after stepping down as leader, will also no longer count in the ranks of Labour MPs.

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Handling of anti-Semitism complaints 

The equality commission found “significant failings” and a “lack of leadership” in how the left-of-centre party handled allegations of anti-Semitism among its members.

In a 130-page report, the commission said in two cases party officers committed “unlawful harassment” against Jewish people and their allies. It said there were many more accounts of harassment by ordinary party members, but that Labour could not be held legally accountable for them since the perpetrators did not hold any official roles.

The EHRC also said there was “evidence of political interference in the handling of anti-Semitism complaints,” and that the interference was unlawful.

“Some complaints were unjustifiably not investigated at all,” the report said.

It said there was “a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”

Keir Starmer, who has headed the Labour Party since April, apologised and said he accepted the report in full and would implement the recommendations immediately.

"It's a day of shame for the Labour party. We have failed Jewish people, our members, our supporters and the British public," he added.

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Change and restoration 

The commission does not have the power to bring criminal charges, but made recommendations for change, which the party is legally bound to act on.

Corbyn stepped down as leader in December after Labour had its worst general election showing since 1935.

Starmer has vowed to stamp out prejudice and restore relations between the party and the Jewish community.

“If you’re anti-Semitic, you should be nowhere near this party,” Starmer said. “And we’ll make sure you’re not.”

After the report was published, Corbyn said he regretted that “it took longer to deliver … change than it should.” But he added that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party.”

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies