Battle over Corbyn whip suspension intensifies as legal process begins

Sienna Rodgers
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The row over Keir Starmer deciding to withhold the Labour whip from Jeremy Corbyn, after the former leader was readmitted to the party on the basis of an internal disciplinary process, is set to escalate, LabourList can reveal.

It is understood that Corbyn’s team is starting legal proceedings and will submit a pre-action disclosure application on Thursday morning. One source said: “One way or another, things will come out in the wash soon enough.”

The former Labour leader is a party member but currently sits as an Independent MP because the whip has been suspended for three months pending an investigation conducted under Parliamentary Labour Party rules.

Sources close to Corbyn say there was a deal with Starmer’s office for his reinstatement, though this claim is disputed. The national executive committee panel that met last week decided Corbyn would be reinstated with a ‘reminder of conduct’.

Corbyn had been suspended in October after claiming that “the scale of the problem was… dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents” in his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report.

His allies say a meeting was held the day after his original suspension from the party, attended by Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner, a leader’s office staffer, Unite’s Len McCluskey and Jon Trickett, to discuss a de-escalation of the situation.

According to these sources, it was agreed that discussions would be taken forward with two members of Starmer’s staff, and these negotiations – via Zoom calls and written exchanges – led to an agreement on the timing and content of Corbyn’s second statement.

On the morning that he was readmitted to the party, Corbyn released a statement commenting on his suspension in which he tried to clarify previous comments and expressed hope that “this matter is resolved as quickly as possible”.

In the fresh statement, posted on Facebook and sent to the party as part of the disciplinary process, Corbyn said: “I regret the pain this issue has caused the Jewish community and would wish to do nothing that would exacerbate or prolong it.

“To be clear, concerns about antisemitism are neither “exaggerated” nor “overstated”. The point I wished to make was that the vast majority of Labour Party members were and remain committed anti-racists deeply opposed to antisemitism.”

Corbyn allies have told LabourList that the text of what Corbyn would need to say for his reinstatement via Labour’s complaints process was agreed with the leader’s office, as well as the timing of its release and the timing of the NEC panel meeting.

But a Labour source disagreed with this telling of events that led up to the NEC panel, saying: “Any accusation that this was a deal or an attempt to determine the outcome of the NEC panel and disciplinary process is wrong.”

According to one account of the talks, there was “much more than lobbying” and a deal was brokered. According to another account, there was dialogue with Corbyn’s team to get him to apologise for the EHRC response statement but no deal.

Asked about a deal being brokered last week, Starmer’s spokesperson told a ‘huddle’ of journalists: “There were individuals who were publicly lobbying for Jeremy’s reinstatement – that was no secret, that is their right.”

It is understood that the Labour leader’s office wanted Corbyn to apologise for his statement in response to the EHRC report due to the hurt caused to the Jewish community and because it is the role of the office to speak to all parts of the party.

But Corbyn’s team believe the publication of correspondence between them and Starmer’s team will “show that there was a deal”, one Labour left source said, as there were “extensive written exchanges”, another source told LabourList.

Chief whip Nick Brown has asked Corbyn to “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation apologise” for his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission report as part of the PLP investigation.

LabourList understands that those close to Corbyn are not advising him to apologise, however, because there is a lack of trust and “nobody thinks that’s going to get this over the line” in terms of the whip being restored to the Islington MP.

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