Labour braces for damning ruling in EHRC antisemitism report

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Senior Labour figures are braced for the equalities watchdog to rule that the party acted unlawfully in its treatment of Jewish members, as a shadow cabinet minister said the antisemitism crisis was the most shameful in Labour’s history.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report is set to recommend an independent complaints system when the findings of its long-awaited inquiry are published on Thursday.

Related: What to look out for in EHRC report on Labour antisemitism claims

The inquiry’s conclusion will close a painful chapter in Labour’s history under Jeremy Corbyn, when it was accused of institutional antisemitism and MPs resigned amid recriminations over toxic factionalism within the party HQ.

Corbyn is expected to make a statement after the report is made public, as is his successor as leader, Keir Starmer.

(September 1, 2015) 

Jeremy Corbyn is elected as Labour leader, and party membership soars to over half a million.

(April 1, 2016) 

Naz Shah, a Labour MP, is suspended after sharing a Facebook post suggesting Israel should be relocated to the United States.

(April 2, 2016) 

The former London mayor Ken Livingstone is suspended after claiming Nazi leader Adolf Hitler “was supporting Zionism” in a radio interview during which he had been trying to defend Shah.

(June 1, 2016) 

Labour publishes an inquiry into antisemitism by Shami Chakrabarti, but the release is overshadowed by a row about remarks made by Corbyn in which he appeared to make a comparison between the Israeli government and Islamist extremists.

(March 1, 2018) 

Corbyn expresses regret after it emerged he had in 2012 supported a street artist accused of producing an antisemitic mural in London's east end.

(March 2, 2018) 

Three days later, Corbyn issues his strongest condemnation yet of antisemitism, declaring he is “a militant opponent” of anti-Jewish hatred as members of the Jewish community organise a protest outside parliament. Corbyn makes many similar declarations in the run-up to the 2019 election.

(May 1, 2018) 

Livingstone resigns from Labour, before his disciplinary case concludes.

(July 1, 2018) 

Veteran Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge is subject to disciplinary proceedings after calling Corbyn an antisemite during an angry confrontation in the Commons chamber, after Labour chose not to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

(July 2, 2018) 

Three Jewish newspapers produce similar front pages, criticising Labour’s decision not to adopt the IHRA definition. In a joint editorial they write that a Corbyn led government would pose an 'existential threat to Jewish life in this country'.

(August 1, 2018) 

Corbyn declines to apologise after footage from 2013 emerges of him saying a group of Zionists had 'no sense of irony'. Corbyn said he had used the term Zionist 'in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people'.

(September 1, 2018) 

Labour’s ruling NEC adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism in full.

(February 1, 2019) 

Jennie Formby, the  party general secretary, said Labour had received 673 complaints, alleging acts of antisemitism by its members since the previous April, resulting in 96 suspensions and 12 expulsions.

(February 2, 2019) 

Seven Labour MPs, including prominent Jewish member Luciana Berger, quit the party to found the short lived ChangeUK, in part accusing the party’s leadership of not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.

(March 1, 2019) 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launches an investigation into antisemitism in the party and its handling of complaints, warning the party 'may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs'.

(July 1, 2019) 

A BBC Panorama documentary accuses senior Labour figures of interfering in antisemitism complaints, often to downgrade them – a charge rejected by the party’s then leadership.

(December 1, 2019) 

Evidence submitted by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) to the EHRC details antisemitic abuse within the party, and concluded it is 'no longer a safe space for Jewish people'.

(December 2, 2019) 

Labour is decisively defeated at the general election, prompting Corbyn to step down.

By Dan Sabbagh

The EHRC is not expected to make direct recommendations that disciplinary action should be taken against high-profile individuals such as Corbyn. But sources close to the inquiry said an earlier draft report found evidence of indirect discrimination in the operation of the party’s processes, which would be a breach of equalities law.

However, there are understood to have been multiple challenges to the draft report and the EHRC’s final conclusions have been kept under wraps.

Starmer is likely to accept all of the report’s recommendations, though a legal challenge to the EHRC’s findings is planned by Jewish supporters of Corbyn if they disagree with its conclusions.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said on Wednesday the antisemitism crisis had been “a shameful period in our history, and we have to be clear that we are never going back to that, and we will do everything we can to repair relations with the Jewish community who are understandably and quite rightly hurt by the Labour party’s failure to deal with this in recent years”.

Related: Antisemitism inquiry is Labour's most shameful moment, says senior MP

The EHRC launched the review in 2019 after whistleblowers alleged the party was institutionally antisemitic in its handling of complaints, and within local party structures. The referral came from a number of Jewish groups including the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement.

The final report, which is more than 100 pages long, has been closely guarded by the EHRC. It is one of the body’s most politically charged investigations to date. A draft report is known to have been shared with the Labour party in July, as well as with a small number of key figures from the Corbyn administration.

Investigators have examined incidents involving the former Labour mayor of London Ken Livingstone and the former MP Chris Williamson, both of whom were suspended by the party on antisemitism charges. The report will also look at alleged interference in the disciplinary process by members of Corbyn’s team and the way the complaints procedure operated.

One source described the language in the draft report as “strong” and said Starmer would come under pressure to set out whether the party would take disciplinary action against individuals involved in the previous administration, such as Corbyn, his former chief of staff Karie Murphy, or the former general secretary Jennie Formby.

Gideon Falter, the chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said there must be consequences for Labour staffers if the report was highly critical. “The party must be forever changed after this episode so this can never happen again,” he said.

“Those responsible remain in the party and must be held to account if Sir Keir Starmer is to tear antisemitism ‘out by its roots’, as he has promised. The EHRC’s report is a pivotal moment in this corrective process, which is why we called in the EHRC and were the originating complainant in its investigation.

“The EHRC has considered a great deal of evidence from us and we will have more to say when the report is published.”

Murphy, whom several former party staffers have accused of meddling in antisemitism cases, has said the handling of such disciplinary cases improved during Corbyn’s tenure.

“Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, antisemites were removed from the Labour party more quickly, transparently and effectively than ever before. As his former chief of staff, I’m proud of that record,” she said.