Starmer sparks furious backlash as he refuses to restore Labour whip to Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn (PA Wire)
17:08pm, Wed 18 Nov 2020
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Sir Keir Starmer has sparked a furious backlash from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as he blocked him from sitting as a Labour MP despite his readmission as a party member.

The Labour leader said his predecessor had “undermined” work to restore trust and confidence in the party’s ability to tackle anti-Semitism as he declined to restore the whip.

Mr Corbyn was reinstated as a Labour member by the National Executive Committee on Tuesday, three weeks after he was suspended over his response to a damning Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report.

But Sir Keir said on Wednesday morning that he would not restore the whip, meaning Mr Corbyn will continue to sit as an independent MP and will not be part of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The Labour leader said in a statement: “Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle anti-Semitism.

“In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.”

Sir Keir’s decision was welcomed by those who hoped to draw a line under the Corbyn era, but prompted an angry response from members who remain loyal to the former leader.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the action was “just plain wrong” and would cause “more division and disunity in the party”.

Diane Abbott, who served as shadow home secretary under Mr Corbyn, said removing the whip “raises serious questions of due process”.

Fellow former shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon said: “Jeremy should immediately have the whip restored. At a time of national crisis, division in the Labour party serves nobody but the Tory Gov’t.”

Mr McDonnell, Ms Abbott and Mr Burgon were among more than 30 MPs and peers in the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group calling for Mr Corbyn to have the whip restored.

The group said: “The decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn is wrong and damaging to the Labour Party.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite – Labour’s biggest donor – said the refusal to restore the whip to Mr Corbyn was “vindictive and vengeful” as he urged Sir Keir to “pull back from the brink”.

He said on Twitter that the move “despoils Party democracy and due process alike and amounts to overruling the unanimous decision of the NEC panel yesterday to readmit him to the Party”.

“This action gives rise to double jeopardy in the handling of the case and shows marked bad faith. The unity of the Labour Party around the need to implement the EHRC recommendations in full is being recklessly undermined.

“The continued persecution of Jeremy Corbyn, a politician who inspired millions, by a leadership capitulating to external pressure on Party procedures risks destroying the unity and integrity of the Party. I urge Keir Starmer in the strongest terms to pull back from the brink.”

Andrew Scattergood, chairman of the Corbyn-supporting grassroots activist movement Momentum, accused Sir Keir of “making it up as he goes along”, describing the decision as a “blatant political attack on the left”.

Momentum founder Jon Lansman said the move not to restore the whip had “driven a coach and horses through the party’s disciplinary process, making it subservient to the parliamentary party and embedding “political interference”.

But Sir Keir’s action was welcomed by veteran Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, who said: “Yesterday has shown once again just how broken and unjust the existing complaints system is.

“It has caused untold hurt and anguish across the Jewish community, undermined progress made and made me question my own place in the party.

“As Corbyn has refused to himself accept the findings of the EHRC report, refused to apologise for his actions and refused to take any responsibility, withholding the whip is the right decision.”

The decision also won the support of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an elected body which represents the Jewish community.

Its president Marie van der Zyl said Labour’s disciplinary process is “clearly still not fit for purpose” but Sir Keir had “taken the appropriate leadership decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn”.

Labour Against Anti-Semitism, an organisation started by party members, said Sir Keir’s move was a “welcome gesture” but criticised the “disgraceful events” that saw the former leader’s suspension from the party ended.

State of the parties in the House of Commons (PA Graphics)

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism charity told Sir Keir to “get a grip” of the Labour Party, saying that withholding the whip from Mr Corbyn is “offering the Jewish community crumbs”.

Mr Corbyn was suspended from Labour last month for his response to the EHRC report which found the party had broken the law in its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

He claimed the scale of anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents inside and outside Labour, along with the media.

But he later attempted to clarify his comments in a statement to the party, saying concerns about anti-Semitism were “neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated’”.

Sign up to our newsletter