July 22, 2020 / 1:13 PM / 15 days ago

Labour Party apologises to ex-staff over anti-Semitism row

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Labour Party apologised on Wednesday to former staff members for defaming them after they criticised the party’s handling of anti-Semitism claims in a television documentary.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks during question period at the House of Commons in London, Britain July 8, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IMAGE CAN NOT BE ALTERED IN ANY FORM. MANDATORY CREDIT

The row took place in 2019 under Labour’s previous leader, far-left veteran Jeremy Corbyn, whose 4-1/2 year tenure as Britain’s main opposition leader was marred by persistent allegations of anti-Semitism in party ranks.

Labour’s current leader, former public prosecutor Keir Starmer, has sought to draw a line under that aspect of the Corbyn era.

Corbyn’s Labour was badly beaten by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in a December election, its fourth defeat in a row. Starmer is seeking to break with the past in time for the next election, in 2024.

Labour was being sued for defamation by seven ex-employees who said they were falsely accused of acting in bad faith after they cooperated with a BBC documentary entitled “Is Labour anti-Semitic?”.

When the film was broadcast, Labour had said the staff members had “political axes to grind” because they did not support Corbyn’s leadership. The party had also accused the BBC journalist who presented the programme of maliciously seeking to mislead the public as part of an anti-Corbyn agenda.

In a settlement read out in court on Wednesday, Labour retracted the accusations against its former employees and the BBC journalist, apologised unreservedly to all of them and agreed to pay them a substantial sum to settle the case.

“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years,” a party spokesman said. “If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership.”

Corbyn, who remains a Labour lawmaker, criticised the settlement and apology, saying they were “a political decision, not a legal one”.

In June, Starmer sacked one of his senior team members, staunch Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey, after she tweeted an article that he said contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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