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An army of supporters of Sir Keir Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn have hit out after Labour agreed to pay “substantial damages” and issued an unreserved apology over “defamatory and false allegations” made following a BBC Panorama investigation. It comes as Mr Starmer continues efforts to distance the party from his predecessor Mr Corbyn, declaring to the House of Commons this afternoon during Prime Minister’s Questions “the Labour Party is under new management”.
But the decision has reignited tensions with the party’s hard Left.
In response to the settlement, the boss of Unite – Labour’s biggest donor – said it was a “misuse” of the party’s funds.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, an ally of Mr Corbyn, said: “Today’s settlement is a misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court.”
He said a leaked report on anti-Semitism – which detailed the factional splits in the party’s headquarters – told a “very different story about what happened”.
While, Mr Corbyn’s former aide, Steve Howell, tweeted: “Keir Starmer just threw the Labour party into an even deeper mess.
“By issuing an apology to former staff who appeared in the #Panorama programme, he is pre-judging the Forde inquiry into the serious issues revealed in the #leakedreport in which at least one of them is implicated.”
Their angry comments comes amid reports several of Mr Corbyn’s former officials – Karie Murphy, Seumas Milne and Jennie Formby – sought legal advice ahead of the decision to ensure they saw the apology before it was issued.
Mr Corbyn has himself also hit out, saying settling the case was “a political decision, not a legal one”.
He said it was a “disappointing” decision which “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations” about action to tackle anti-Semitism in Labour.
Mr Corbyn said: “Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence, and the evidence in the leaked Labour report that is now the subject of an NEC inquiry led by Martin Forde QC strengthened concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the programme.
“The decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.
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“To give our members the answers and justice they deserve, the inquiry led by Martin Forde must now fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 general election campaign.”
Seven former employees who worked in the party’s governance and legal unit, who were responsible for the investigation of allegations of misconduct by party members, sued Labour after it issued a press release describing them as having “personal and political axes to grind”.
The legal action followed the broadcast in July 2019 of a BBC Panorama programme titled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?.
Katherine Buckingham, Michael Creighton, Samuel Matthews, Daniel Hogan, Louise Withers Green, Martha Robinson and Benjamin Westerman all had concerns there was “a lack ofcommitment” by Labour to properly investigate anti-Semitism within the party, the High Court heard on Wednesday.
At a brief hearing in London, their barrister William Bennett QC said: “The whistleblowers were highly critical of the Labour Party’s approach to tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks.”
He told Mr Justice Nicklin: “Before the broadcast of the Panorama programme, the Labour Party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about the whistleblowers.
Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations under Mr Corbyn’s leadership is the subject of an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – and Sir Keir has already received a draft report from the watchdog.
The party said that under Sir Keir and deputy leader Angela Rayner, Labour is “committed to tackling anti-Semitism”.
In a statement, the party said: “Anti-Semitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years. It has caused unacceptable and unimaginable levels of grief and distress for manyin the Jewish community, as well as members of staff.
“If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership.
“That means being open, transparent and respecting the right of whistleblowers and the free press and freedom of expression which includes the right to object to things written or published.”
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