Jeremy Corbyn claims Luciana Berger left Labour 'to start a new party'

Corbyn also claimed that the issue of antisemitism had been 'weaponised' against him and that he was 'abused in an extremely unfair way about it'


Jeremy Corbyn has claimed that former Labour MP Luciana Berger left the party in 2019 because she was "setting up another party", rather than due to antisemitism.

In an explosive interview with Lewis Goodall on The News Agents podcast, the former Labour leader acknowledged that Berger had been "badly treated by some in the party", but insisted that she left because she was launching a new political party.

The claim that Berger did not leave the party due to antisemitism was one of a number of controversial statements made by Corbyn during the interview, including claiming that the issue of antisemitism had been "weaponised" against him and saying that he was "abused in an extremely unfair way about it".

Asked by Goodall why Luciana Berger, then MP for Liverpool Wavertree, quit the Labour Party in 2019 citing antisemitism, Corbyn insisted that she left because she was setting up another political party: "She was setting up another party at the same time. She knew full well what was in the Chakrabarti report and what the implementation process was for changing those processes.

"She knew full well that I was very sure that we had to deal with racism of any sort, albeit the numbers were very small, and also, again in Shami's report, there had to be an education process into the use of language and what antisemitism actually is."

Pressed by Goodall on if he was suggesting that Berger had an ulterior motive in quitting the party, Corbyn said: "All I'm saying is, Luciana was abused. She was badly treated by some people in the party, which I obviously condemned at the time, and still do. But she also, along with other then-Labour MPs set up another party and walked out."

In her February 2019 letter to constituents announcing that she was leaving Labour, Berger wrote that since the 2018 demonstration in Parliament Square against antisemitism in Labour, "despite a mountain of evidence, we have only seen this situation of racism against Jewish people within its ranks worsen".

She also wrote that she had "seen the Labour Party allow antisemitism to take root and fester in a way that is unprecedented in British politics".

Asked if he was sorry to Berger, Corbyn said that they "got on very well" when she was shadow minister for mental health in the early days of his tenure, saying that when she resigned from the post in 2016, "We didn't part on bad terms, even though we disagreed."

Pushed on if he was sorry to those who left the party due to antisemitism, Corbyn said: "Of course I'm sorry people have left the party. I also think that the way the issue was used against me was utterly disgraceful. Some of the remarks made by journalists, the remarks made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others towards me; I have been an anti-racist all my life. Antisemitism is an evil form of racism."

In response to Corbyn's claim that Berger quit Labour to start a new party, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) tweeted: "Luciana Berger quit the Labour Party because she was hounded out and Corbyn’s Labour couldn’t tackle the antisemitism within its ranks.

"To suggest she left with an ulterior motive is disgusting."

Adam Langleben, JLM's National Secretary, added: "This is disgusting judgemental gaslighting from someone who has never had to face racism in his life. Perhaps if the party had dealt with the issues she might not have concluded that she had to leave the Labour Party."

Goodall also asked Corbyn if he believes that accusations of antisemitism were weaponised against him, to which he replied: "I think I was abused in an extremely unfair way about it. I made my position very clear, and I'm the one that actually brought in a process that dealt with a very small number of people in the Labour Party that either used antisemitic language, or in some cases were unaware of the tropes that are used to actually denigrate Jewish people, which, again, Shami's report very carefully identified."

"The idea that somehow or other I was sitting back and watching all the stuff going on is complete nonsense."

Asked if he had any regrets, Corbyn replied: "I regret the result, I regret that anyone was ever treated in a bad way and any kind of antisemitism existed in the party. I don't want any form of antisemitism anywhere in our society or anywhere in our world."

Earlier in the interview, Corbyn was asked about his own personal shortcomings that may have contributed to the disastrous 2019 election loss, to which he said: "Maybe I should've been stronger at personally defending myself. I don't like talking about myself, I don't like seeing the whole thing through the prism of an individual. That's my style, that's what I'm about." 

On the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report, Corbyn said that the party "cooperated fully" when he was leader, adding that he accepted the report in full: "I didn't say the issue was exaggerated; I said the number of cases was exaggerated, which is quite a big difference."

He also said that the removal of the Labour whip after his response to the report was "absurd and disgraceful", telling Goodall: "I've been a Labour MP since 1983. I've been elected every election since then - ten times. I've been a Labour Party member since I was 16 years old, and I was elected as a Labour MP by my very loyal constituents in Islington North, and I think the whole thing is absurd."

He refused to say whether he would stand as an Independent candidate if the Labour Party does not select him to stand in Islington North at the next election, saying: "The Labour Party members ought to be allowed to decide the future of their party. The Labour Party members ought to be allowed to decide who the Labour candidates are. That, after all, is what Keir Starmer was elected leader to do."

Corbyn also hit back at Jewish comedian David Baddiel who said on Sky News recently that although he does not believe that the former Labour leader was antisemitic, he does think that at the back of his mind, Corbyn views antisemitism as a lesser evil than capitalism, for example: "He accepts that I am not a racist in any terms. Fine. So, why does he then construct something that's allegedly at the back of my mind. I've never actually met him - how does he know what's going on in my mind? Maybe what he's trying to do is paint me into something I'm not."

Baddiel responded on Twitter: "Most progressive people now accept the idea - as regards most forms of racism and discrimination - of the existence of unconscious bias. Apparently not in the case of this form though.

"Most progressive people also accept that as regards the experience of discrimination against a minority, the best placed to define it is a member of that minority - and the response should not be just airily to dismiss it. Except, again, it seems, not with this minority."

Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Mike Katz, responded to the interview as a whole, saying: "Where do you even start with this? No contrition, no recognition Labour under him broke equalities law.

"His take that media just stopped talking about Labour antisemitism when he stood down (doesn’t mention someone committed to stamping it out took over) is an early contender for worst of 2023."

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