Libel case apology and settlement were a “political decision”, says Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the Labour Party’s decision to apologise and settle its libel case with former Labour staffers and a journalist, calling it a “political decision, not a legal one”.

Responding to a statement made by Labour’s lawyers in court today, the former leader said that “the decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations”.

The Islington MP concluded that the investigation into the leaked report on the handling of antisemitism complaints “must now fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction”.

Labour this morning apologised to seven former Labour staffers and BBC journalist John Ware – and agreed to pay “substantial damages” – for its response to a documentary last year in relation to antisemitism within the party.

When the documentary was aired last year, a party spokesperson stated that the programme was a “malicious, selective briefing from disaffected, politically hostile former employees” and complained to Ofcom. Its complaints were rejected.

The party said today that its comments had “contained defamatory and false allegations against the whistleblowers” in the documentary and that it “unreservedly withdraws these allegations”.

The settlement is believed to have cost the party between £600,000 and £750,000 – with around £200,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals.

Both the former Labour leader and the former director of comms Seumas Milne have taken legal advice about the settlement and apology, and The Guardian reports that “senior figures are considering routes for a future challenge to the settlement”.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey tweeted that the move by Labour is a “misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court”. He added that the leaked antisemitism report “tells a very different story about what happened”.

But Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy told the BBC that McCluskey is “completely wrong” in an interview this afternoon. She said the party is “taking steps today to get it right” on antisemitism.

Asked whether Corbyn should challenge the ruling, she said: “No, I don’t think we should be challenging this. I think we need to draw a line under what has been a very sorry episode in relation to the way that Labour has dealt with antisemitism.”

Below is the full text of the statement issued by Jeremy Corbyn today.

Labour Party members have a right to accountability and transparency of decisions taken in their name, and an effective commitment from the party to combat antisemitism and racism in all their forms.

The party’s decision to apologise today and make substantial payments to former staff who sued the party in relation to last year’s Panorama programme is a political decision, not a legal one.

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 national executive committee 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 antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years.

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.

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