Keir Starmer has said Jeremy Corbyn could have predicted his decision to play down the extent of antisemitism in Labour would lead to disciplinary action, as he said it was theoretically possible the former leader could be expelled from the party.
In a round of media interviews as Labour descended into infighting following Corbyn’s suspension for saying antisemitism in Labour had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, Starmer insisted he had nothing to do with this disciplinary process.
But asked if possible disciplinary action against Corbyn could include expulsion, Starmer said: “Yes, people have been expelled from the Labour party.” Of 827 cases connected to antisemitism dealt with since he took over as leader in April, Starmer said, a third had been kicked out of the party.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “But it’s not for me to say what process should be followed, that’s for the general secretary, or what sanction is in order. I don’t want a civil war in the Labour party. I don’t think there’s any need for one. I want to unite the party. But I’m not going to renege on my commitment to root out antisemitism.”
Starmer said he had spelled out to Corbyn on Wednesday evening how he intended to respond to the damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which found Labour responsible for three legal breaches over antisemitism.
“I’m deeply disappointed in that response from Jeremy Corbyn yesterday not least because I spoke to him the night before the report to set out how I intended to deal with it,” he told Today.
“And from discussions yesterday morning I’m in no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn and his team knew exactly what I was going to say in my response about not only antisemitism but the denial and the arguments about exaggeration, and it’s just a factional fight.
“That is why appropriate action was taken yesterday by the general secretary in suspending Jeremy Corbyn. That’s the right acton – very difficult action, but the right action, which I fully support.”
Speaking earlier, Starmer told BBC One’s Breakfast that the decision was made at about 1pm on Thursday by Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, as a result of Corbyn’s rebuff of criticism from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The Labour leader, who took over from Corbyn in April, and has accepted in full the EHRC’s findings, said he had not spoken to his predecessor since the report was published.
He said: “What I had hoped would happen yesterday is that we could accept what was going to be a very difficult day, draw a line in the sand and move on.
“And I’ve spoken extensively to Jewish communities, Jewish leaders over the last six months. That’s what they wanted to happen yesterday, an ability to recognise the hurt, draw a line and move on.
“That’s what I hoped would have happened yesterday. As it happens it took a different turn of events because of Jeremy Corbyn’s response.”
Corbyn has pledged to fight the suspension, and is rallying allies, including supportive MPs and friendly unions, including Unite, which is Labour’s biggest financial supporter.
Asked about the former leader’s future in the party, Starmer declined to comment, saying it was “very important that I don’t now comment on what is going to happen in the process”.
Asked whether he believed Corbyn was himself antisemitic, he indicated not: “I don’t see Jeremy Corbyn in that light. Neither did the commission report make any findings, individually, about things that Jeremy had said or done.”
The EHRC said Labour under Corbyn was responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act, connected to harassment, political interference in antisemitism complaints and inadequate training for those handling the complaints.
Challenged on what he did while serving as shadow Brexit secretary to try to change the party’s actions, Starmer said he had spoken out, both privately in public, adding: “Within the shadow cabinet you have responsibility, and I accept that. And we all have to accept the findings yesterday, and apologise for them.”
Asked why he did not resign, he said: “I thought it was important to have voices in the shadow cabinet.”