Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has told Sky News he was “disappointed” in his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s response to a damning antisemitism report – but has insisted there is “no reason for a civil war” in the party.
Mr Corbyn was suspended from Labour on Thursday – a move he condemned as “political intervention” – after he claimed that antisemitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.
He has vowed to fight his suspension, raising the prospect of a bitter battle between Mr Corbyn, his allies and Sir Keir’s leadership.
Some Labour MPs loyal to Mr Corbyn have condemned the decision to suspend the party’s former leader and called for him to be reinstated to the party.
But Sir Keir played down the prospect of a looming internal conflict within Labour.
“I don’t want a split in the Labour Party,” he told Sky News.
“I stood as leader of the Labour Party on the basis I would unite the party, but also that I would tackle antisemitism.
“I think both of those can be done, there’s no reason for a civil war in our party.
“But we are absolutely determined, I am absolutely determined, to root out antisemitism.
“I don’t want the words Labour and Labour Party and antisemitism in the same sentence again.”
Sir Keir stressed that the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation, published on Thursday, had made “no individual findings” against Mr Corbyn.
But he said Mr Corbyn’s response to the critical report – in which the former leader suggested antisemitism was exaggerated by Labour’s opponents and the media – was “part of the problem” the party faces in addressing the issue.
“I was disappointed in Jeremy’s response yesterday, particularly since I had said in my response that the Labour Party will not tolerate antisemitism, nor will it tolerate those who deny there’s a problem of antisemitism and say it’s all exaggerated or factional,” Sir Keir added.
“That, for me, is part of the problem.”
In another broadcast interview, Sir Keir revealed he had spoken to Mr Corbyn on Wednesday night, before the report was published, in which he discussed with his predecessor his planned comments about those who made claims of antisemitism being exaggerated.
Sir Keir served in Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet for three-and-a-half years and campaigned for him to become prime minister at the general elections in both 2017 and last year.
The Labour leader defended his decision to align himself with Mr Corbyn’s leadership during that time, despite the allegations of antisemitism that dogged his predecessor’s spell in charge of Labour.
Sir Keir said he “spoke out about antisemitism” both within the shadow cabinet and in media appearances during that time.
“I thought it was right to raise it inside the shadow cabinet and outside the shadow cabinet,” he told Sky News.
“But there’s no getting away from the findings of the report yesterday.
“They are clear findings and we all have to accept them, including myself, which is why I thought the right response yesterday was to accept the findings, to apologise again for the hurt that has been caused, and to make it my absolute business to implement the recommendations as quickly as possible.”
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