Jeremy Corbyn has declared that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – currently investigating allegations of institutional antisemitism in Labour – is “part of the government machine”.
Giving his first major interview since stepping down as Labour leader to Middle East Eye, the Islington MP said it was “quite significant” that the equalities watchdog was “underfunded” by the Tory government.
The former party leader said that the Conservatives in power had “for some reason, which I don’t fully understand… decided to take away its independent status and make it part of the government machine”.
Asked by MEE whether he believed that the lack of independence he described would shape the EHRC’s upcoming report on Labour antisemitism, Corbyn reportedly replied: “Let’s see what happens.”
Commenting on the remarks, a Labour spokesperson said: “We fully respect the independence of the EHRC. Keir Starmer has made clear he will cooperate fully with the Commission’s inquiry. We will implement, in full, any recommendations made by the EHRC.”
In response, the party-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement said: “Claiming that the EHRC is part of the government ‘machine’ is a conspiracy theory. Questioning the rights of Jews to call out antisemitism is victimisation.
“We have always maintained that a fully independent organisation such as the EHRC, with statutory powers to compel witness testimony and obtain documents, was the only way to reach the truth of the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problems.
“With the EHRC’s final judgement imminent, it’s unsurprising that the Leader who oversaw the Labour Party’s moral descent into a culture of causal anti-Jewish racism is scared about what it might find.”
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who called Corbyn a racist when he was leader, tweeted: “What a ridiculous [and] dangerous conspiracy theory for a Member of Parliament to start spreading.”
Neil Coyle added: “I believe this is known as ‘getting your defence in first’. It’s an insult to the EHRC workforce and to Labour members who want this dreadful chapter closed and our Party to be able to move on and clear the antisemitism (and all its proponents and apologists) out completely.”
Some party activists recently criticised the EHRC decision – after the Muslim Council of Britain submitted a dossier – not to investigate the Conservative Party over allegations of institutional Islamophobia.
The EHRC launched an investigation in May 2019 looking at “whether The Labour Party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.
Labour in response said: “We reject any suggestion that the party does not handle antisemitism complaints fairly and robustly, or that the party has acted unlawfully, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the EHRC.”
The party also argued at the time that the EHRC had been “undermined by a 70% budget cut since 2010”, and pledged to “strengthen the powers and functions of the commission” in government.
In the same month that the probe was launched, Labour national executive committee (NEC) member Yasmine Dar wrote that the EHRC should be “treating all political parties the same, without fear or favour”.
The body, set up under Labour in 2007, has been forming judgments on whether unlawful acts have been committed by the party or employees and whether its response to complaints has been “lawful, efficient and effective”.
It is expected to report on the allegations imminently, and Labour will then be given 28 days in which it can respond to the conclusions. The Jewish Labour Movement has encouraged the party to allow the report to be published.
“We need to have the full and documented conclusions of the EHRC because it’s going to take a herculean effort on behalf of the leadership… to really undo some of the things that have started to happen,” JLM secretary Peter Mason said.
In the MEE interview, Corbyn responded to accusations that he had tolerated antisemitism in Labour, saying: “They attacked me all the time on this. I think it is wrong, because I think I’m the one that actually introduced a process for dealing with it.”
He was also asked about the recently leaked report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints, which alleged that anti-Corbyn staff had undermined the process.
Corbyn said: “I always knew that there was a culture in the Labour party that was not a healthy one, of an almost self-perpetuating bureaucracy. All organisations have a degree of self-perpetuating bureaucracy about them.”
MEE has said that its full interview with Corbyn will be released on Tuesday.