Angry split sees shadow ministers rage over antisemitism in front of Jeremy Corbyn

February 12, 2019

A row over antisemitism in the Labour party prompted an angry split at Tuesday's shadow cabinet meeting, Sky News understands.

Amid calls from MPs to publish more detail about the number of complaints against members and the punishments they have been handed senior, Labour MPs argued with each other in front of Jeremy Corbyn about why more had not been done to tackle antisemitism.

Sky News understands that Tom Watson, the party's deputy leader, was confronted by Ian Lavery, the party chairman, which resulted in Mr Watson warning he would not be "shouted down".

Mr Watson was understood to have expressed concerns about the treatment of pregnant Labour MP Luciana Berger, who was threatened with deselection from the party.

Sources at the meeting said Mr Lavery was angry about calls for her local branch to be suspended over claims she had been bullied.

Mr Corbyn faces difficult questions about the number of antisemitism complaints and the action taken against those found to have broken party rules after the general secretary of the party Jennie Formby revealed 673 people have been reported over the last nine months.

A group of MPs demanded more information about the numbers, warning they believe more cases had been reported to the party than those publicly acknowledged.

As a result, the shadow cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning spent 90 minutes discussing the issue and each member was presented with a copy of the letter in what sources say was a bid to prevent Mr Corbyn from "glossing over the issue".

Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, is reported to have confronted Mr Corbyn over a number of cases in which members had expressed racist views but had not been sanctioned and remained members.

The shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer is also said to have spoken up in the heated meeting, according to those present.

Neither Mr Starmer or Mr Gardiner chose to comment on the reports.

A number of those present called for the Labour leader to do more to confront the problem and not simply talk about the process by which complaints are handled.

They also warned it is impossible to say racism has been eradicated from the party while members with antisemitic views are still allowed in.

Last night Mr Corbyn responded to MPs who wrote to him asking for more information about antisemitism training and the number of complaints published by the party.

In the note he said: "I am disappointed it [the letter] was on social media before I received it."

He also called for Labour MPs to move forward "in a comradely way".

Mr Corbyn said: "The general secretary has provided to detailed written updates and one extended verbal report to the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and is today providing a further written update.

"As leader however, I wish to set out my own commitment along with that of the wider shadow cabinet as the leaders of the Labour Party in parliament to root out antisemitism.

"I am determined we will defeat racism wherever we see it and I know that antisemitism is one of the oldest, nastiest and most persistent forms of racism."

Ms Formby also wrote a letter to the PLP following the criticism, debunking a number of claims made against the party about the lack of adequate response to antisemitic incidents.

She said: "I absolutely reject the suggestion in the letter that the leadership of the party has ignored the views of the PLP.

"It is clear that our team has been working extremely hard to turn these issues around as efficiently as possible.

"The constant and often public criticism of our dedicated and talented staff team is unacceptable and is causing them considerable distress.

"Of course, processes can always be improved, and I remain committed to that.

"I welcome the efforts of MPs to work together with us to help us resolve the issue."

In response Wes Streeting MP, one of the MPs who signed the letter, told Sky News: "Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby cannot continue sending platitudinous letters to Labour MPs about our determination to be the leading anti-racist party, of informing us our systems have dramatically improved when example after example of outright racism is produced by members of the Labour Party who have already been investigated by the Labour Party and whom the Labour Party have decided are still suitable for membership of the Labour Party.

"It is perfectly possible to eradicate antisemitism from the Labour party, it is very simple: kick them out.

"We are in the absolute pits when it is Jewish members who are leaving the Labour party while people who perpetrate abuse against them are invited to stay."

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