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By Ben Guerin
Press releases

Tom Watson hits out at Labour’s use of NDAs to gag staff members on anti-semitism

4 min read

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has hit out at the party’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to prevent staff members from speaking out on anti-semitism.

The row has come amid fresh splits over the issue ahead of a BBC documentary on how Labour has been handling complaints of anti-Jewish hatred.

The Sunday Times is reporting that up to half a dozen former employees have torn up their NDAs to speak to the Panorama programme, due to air this week, and are facing potential legal action from Labour as a result.

Mr Watson tweeted in response to a letter from law firm Carter Ruck to Sam Matthews, the party's former head of disputes, saying "using expensive media lawyers in [an] attempt to silence staff members is as futile as it is stupid”.

He added: "It's not the Labour way and I deplore it."

The party has previously vowed to end the use of NDAs to silence whistle-blowers, but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell denied there was any hypocrisy.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “What we’re trying to do is remind them of their confidentiality agreement.”

“I’ve always campaigned against NDAs where they’re trying to prevent whistleblowing particularly around harassment and victimisation.”

Mr McDonnell added: “What’s happened is the Labour party has reminded them of their confidentiality agreement because you can’t have people particularly when you’re dealing with individual cases, individual information about individual members, that can’t be right.

“What we will be saying we’re going to reform the law so that whistleblowers will be protected, NDAs will not be used against them when they are using whistleblowers.”

And fellow shadow cabinet minister Barry Gardiner defended the party's use of gagging clauses.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge Show, he said: "We absolutely do not use gagging orders to hide anything that is illegal or improper.

"We use gagging orders only to stop former members of staff from leaking confidential information where we have an obligation to protect individuals and for doing that in a party political or partisan way for political purposes."

The Shadow International Trade Secretary said: “I welcome any objective impartial investigation that is going to help us to get rid of anti-Semitism in the Labour party, let me make that absolutely clear.

“My understanding of this programme is that it is has not been balanced and impartial in that way.”

And he added: “It’s difficult to comment on a programme which I haven’t seen but my understanding is that it is not a balanced and objective investigation into anti-semitism it is a very partial view from a few members of staff who have a political axe to grind.”

Both Mr Gardiner and Mr McDonnell used media appearances to reject claims of a rift at the top of the Labour party over the influence of Mr Corbyn’s advisers.

Mr Gardiner said: "The idea that they put forward that there's a civil war in the Labour Party - let's look at the real divide in this country.

"The real divide in this country is not within the Labour Party, the real divide in this country is between what the Conservatives are trying to do with our country and the rest."

And Mr McDonnell rejected claims he told Mr Corbyn to sack chief of staff Karie Murphy and director of communications Seumas Milne.

He said: “I have confidence in them, of course I do. I’ve not told anyone to be sacked or anything like that, this is all myth.

“Jeremy and I talk about policies on a daily basis, yes we disagree on things but we’ll then come to an agreement, he’ll build consensus just as he always does and then we back each other up.”

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