Jeremy Corbyn has questioned the impartiality of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), claiming that under-funding by the Conservatives and a “loss of its independence” have left the watchdog “part of the government machine”.
In a new interview, the former Labour leader also claimed attacks over his failure on antisemitism were “wrong and unfair”, and suggested that former Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill was guilty of anti-Jewish racism “all through his life”.
Speaking to the Middle East Eye website, the Islington North MP was asked about the EHRC, which is due to publish its report into Labour’s handling of antisemitism in a matter of weeks.
He said: “I think it's quite significant that the Conservative government has underfunded the Equality and Human Rights Commission… and for some reason, which I don't fully understand… decided to take away its independent status and make it part of the government machine.’’
Asked whether he believed the EHRC’s ability to carry out an objective assessment of Labour was damaged he said: “Let’s see what happens.”
Repeating his familiar statements on being a life-long anti-racist, Mr Corbyn cited the seeming tolerance of antisemitic discourse by Winston Churchill.
He said: “When you think of Churchill's antisemitic remarks all through his life... the degrees of acceptance of... antisemitism throughout our history is huge.
“And I think there has to be a challenge to that or any form of racism. And that is what I tried to do within the party as party leader and it's what I spend my life doing.”
Asked why he had not challenged with more vigour the accusation by Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge that he was guilty of racism himself, Mr Corbyn said: “Was too tolerant of people? Well that’s an interesting question.”
A spokesperson for Labour added: “We fully respect the independence of the EHRC. Keir Starmer has made clear he will cooperate fully with the commission’s inquiry. We will implement, in full, any recommendations made by the EHRC.”
The Jewish Labour Movement said: “Claiming that the EHRC is part of the government ‘machine’ is a conspiracy theory. Questioning the rights of Jews to call out antisemitism is victimisation.
“We have always maintained that a fully independent organisation such as the EHRC, with statutory powers to compel witness testimony and obtain documents, was the only way to reach the truth of the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problems.
“With the EHRC’s final judgement imminent, it’s unsurprising that the Leader who oversaw the Labour Party’s moral descent into a culture of causal anti-Jewish racism is scared about what it might find.”
While Dame Margaret tweeted:“What a ridiculous dangerous conspiracy theory for a Member of Parliament to start spreading.”
* An earlier version of this article included the Labour Party's initial response to the announcement of the EHRC inquiry rather than their latest response to Mr Corbyn's claims. This has now been amended.