Keir Starmer has refused to allow Jeremy Corbyn to sit as a Labour MP despite the former leader being readmitted to the party, a decision that pits him against grassroots members.
Mr Corbyn, the 71-year-old leftwinger who led the UK’s main opposition party until April of this year, will now be classified as an independent MP.
The former leader was suspended from both the party and the Parliamentary Labour party last month over his response to an independent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into anti-Semitism in the party.
A panel of five members of Labour’s national executive committee restored Mr Corbyn’s membership of the party during a lengthy meeting on Tuesday.
But on Wednesday morning Sir Keir announced that he had taken the decision not to restore the whip, or his parliamentary party membership, to Mr Corbyn, although he would keep the situation “under review”.
“I'm the leader of the Labour party, but I'm also the leader of the Parliamentary Labour party,” he 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.”
Mr Corbyn was suspended following the EHRC’s damning investigation, which found that the party had conducted “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” during the five years of his leadership.
Instead of wholeheartedly accepting the findings, Mr Corbyn said the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”, including the media.
The NEC panel chose to reinstate him on Tuesday after he posted another statement on his Facebook account clarifying his initial remarks.
“To be clear, concerns about anti-Semitism are neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated’,” he wrote in contradiction to his initial statement. “I regret the pain this issue has caused the Jewish community and would wish to do nothing that would exacerbate or prolong it.”
The expedited hearing of the NEC was criticised by the three main leadership groups of the UK’s Jewish community: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust.
Margaret Hodge, Labour’s only remaining female Jewish MP, had threatened to quit the party unless Mr Corbyn lost the whip.
On Wednesday Gideon Falter, chief executive of Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, criticised the “opaque, arbitrary decisions by panels that are unfit for purpose”. “Withholding the whip from Jeremy Corbyn is offering the Jewish community crumbs,” he said.
Fiona Sharpe, spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism, criticised “the disgraceful events of the last 24 hours” but said the removal of the whip was a “welcome gesture”.
One shadow minister welcomed the removal of the whip, saying the NEC decision had been a major setback to Sir Keir’s attempts to show the general public that Labour was now under “new management” after Mr Corbyn led the party to its worst electoral defeat in 80 years in December.
“The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn was probably the biggest single symbol of change since Keir became leader and that has now been reversed,” he said. “But if Keir had let him rejoin the Parliamentary Labour party, it would have been much worse.”
Mr Corbyn did not immediately react to Sir Keir’s decision but on Wednesday afternoon 32 leftwing Labour MPs signed a statement urging Sir Keir to reinstate Mr Corbyn: “The decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn is wrong and damaging to the Labour party,” they said. “The decision and the division it causes severely undermines efforts to unite to defeat anti-Semitism.
Andrew Scattergood, co-chair of leftwing group Momentum, accused Sir Keir of “making it up as he goes along”. “This is not only farcical and incompetent, it is a blatant political attack on the left at a time when Labour should be united in taking on the Tories,” he said.
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