The Daily Telegraph

Corbyn and Starmer locked in bitter row

Party apologises for smears and offers compensati­on amid claims that a trial would have cost it millions

- By Harry Yorke Political correspond­ent

SIR KEIR STARMER was last night locked in an explosive row with Jeremy Corbyn as Labour agreed to pay “substantia­l damages” to anti-semitism whistleblo­wers and Jewish campaigner­s called on him to suspend the whip from the former leader.

To the fury of the party’s hard-left, Labour yesterday issued an unreserved apology to seven former staff members and the journalist John Ware over “defamatory and false” allegation­s levelled against them by the previous regime.

Agreeing to pay out an estimated £370,000 in fees and damages, the party said it recognised the “dedicated and committed service” given by the whistleblo­wers. Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir declared Labour was now “under new management”.

Drawing a clear contrast with the former regime’s soft approach on Russia, he told MPS that he believed the news outlet Russia Today – on which Mr Corbyn has appeared several times – should have its UK licence reviewed.

It comes a year after Labour accused the ex-staffers who appeared in the Panorama documentar­y “Is Labour Anti-semitic?” of having “personal and political axes to grind”, and accused Mr Ware, the presenter, of “deliberate and malicious misreprese­ntations designed to mislead the public”.

In a statement, Labour said that “we would like to apologise unreserved­ly for the distress, embarrassm­ent and hurt caused by their publicatio­n. We have agreed to pay them damages”.

But just hours later, Mr Corbyn issued a public rebuke of Sir Keir’s decision, which he denounced as “political”.

He said it was “disappoint­ing” and risked giving “credibilit­y to misleading and inaccurate allegation­s about action taken to tackle anti-semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.”

Mark Lewis, the libel lawyer, said he had been instructed by Mr Ware and a number of the whistle-blowers to pursue action against Mr Corbyn over his latest remarks. He also disclosed that he had been approached by 32 people who wanted to take action against Labour for a range of allegation­s.

LABOUR has agreed to pay out an estimated £370,000 in legal fees and damages to anti-semitism whistleblo­wers as it apologised unreserved­ly for smears levelled at them under Jeremy Corbyn’s regime.

A year after denouncing seven former staff who featured in a damning BBC Panorama documentar­y as having “personal and political axes to grind”, Labour said that the comments were both “false and defamatory”.

Appearing in the High Court, legal counsel acting for the party said it had wrongly accused the whistleblo­wers of “bad faith” and that its response had caused “distress, embarrassm­ent and hurt”. Withdrawin­g the remarks and undertakin­g not to repeat them, it also apologised and agreed to a settlement with BBC journalist John Ware over its claim that he had engaged in “deliberate and malicious misreprese­ntations designed to mislead the public”.

The Daily Telegraph understand­s that the legal costs payable to the litigants are estimated at £200,000 and the damages at £170,000, with the Labour’s own costs thought to exceed £100,000. The party declined to confirm or deny the figures when asked for comment. Speaking afterwards outside the court, Lord Falconer, Labour’s shadow attorney-general, said the settlement­s had brought to an end a torrid “chapter” for the party.

“We can focus now not on litigation, which is a disastrous thing, [but] on championin­g the things that matter to the public, so it’s a good day,” he said.

In a statement, Labour added that party leader Sir Keir Starmer was “committed to tackling anti-semitism”, which had become a “stain” on Labour in recent years.

“If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrat­e a change of leadership,” it continued. The clear departure from Mr Corbyn’s leadership was underlined further when, shortly after midday, Sir Keir declared in the House of Commons that Labour was now under “new party management”.

Ratcheting up pressure on Boris Johnson over the Government’s handling of the repeatedly delayed Russia report, Sir Keir called for firm action against “Kremlin-backed disinforma­tion” and for a review of the Russian state-backed broadcaste­r RT’S licensing agreement.

While Mr Corbyn and many of his allies have previously appeared on the channel, Sir Keir told MPS that “no frontbench­er from this party has appeared on Russia Today since I have been leader of this party”.

While the settlement with the whistleblo­wers was welcomed by Jewish groups and Labour moderates, the decision to effectivel­y rebuke the previous regime’s handling of the controvers­y has infuriated Mr Corbyn and the hard-left.

In a clear challenge to his successor issued shortly after midday, Mr Corbyn claimed that the decision to settle the case rather than go to trial had been a “political” rather than legal one.

He added that the decision to settle the claims was “disappoint­ing” and risked giving “credibilit­y to misleading and inaccurate allegation­s about action taken to tackle anti-semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.”

Mr Corbyn also cited a recently leaked party-sanctioned report on Labour’s handling of anti-semitism, which he said “strengthen­ed concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the [BBC] programme”.

“Labour Party members have a right to accountabi­lity and transparen­cy of decisions taken in their name, and an effective commitment from the party to combat anti-semitism and racism in all their forms,” the statement continued.

“To give our members the answers and justice they deserve, the inquiry, led by Martin Forde, must now fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionali­sm and obstructio­n of

Labour’s 2017 general election campaign. Echoing his comments, Len Mccluskey, the Unite general secretary, wrote on Twitter: “Today’s settlement is a misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court. The leaked report ... tells a very different story about what happened.”

Mr Corbyn’s statement sparked a backlash among Labour moderates and Jewish groups, with the Campaign Against Anti-semitism calling on Sir Keir to suspend the whip from him, though senior party sources indicated no action would be taken, Mark Lewis, the libel lawyer representi­ng Mr Ware and the former staff members, confirmed

that he had now been instructed to pursue claims against Mr Corbyn.

Separately, allies of Sir Keir expressed their anger at Mr Corbyn’s refusal to show contrition, with one source telling The Telegraph that he was not “remotely being supportive” of his successor.

Dismissing Mr Corbyn’s suggestion that the party should have fought the legal action, they added that losing at trial could have cost Labour between £1.5million and £2million. “It would be mad for any organisati­on to take the risk of going down for literally millions for a thing like that,” they added. “The settlement was very sensible.”

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