Equalities watchdog launches formal investigation into Labour over anti-semitism allegations
Labour is to face a formal investigation by the UK's equality watchdog over its handling of anti-semitism complaints.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission said it was opening the full statutory probe to investigate if the party had "unlawfully discriminated" against people because they are Jewish.
In March, the watchdog began pre-enforcement proceedings after receving complaints from Jewish groups over Labour's attempts to tackle anti-semitism within its ranks.
A statement from the watchdog said: "The EHRC contacted Labour after receiving a number of complaints about allegations of antisemitism in the Party," a
"We contacted Labour after receiving a number of complaints about allegations of anti-Semitism in the party.
"The EHRC has carefully considered the response it has received from the Party and has now opened a formal investigation under section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 to further examine the concerns."
But a Labour spokesperson hit back, saying the party rejected any suggestion they did not handle complaints fairly and robustly - and hinting that cuts to the EHRC's government funding may be to blame.
"Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to antisemitism in any form," they said.
“We reject any suggestion that the Party does not handle antisemitism complaints fairly and robustly, or that the Party has acted unlawfully, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the EHRC.
They added: “We support the efforts of the EHRC to draw attention to the obligations all political parties have under the Equality Act. But its ability to do so has been undermined by a 70% budget cut since 2010. Labour is the party of equality and in government we will strengthen the powers and functions of the commission.
“There has been a deeply worrying rise in antisemitism in the UK and across Europe. We are taking action to root it out of our party by strengthening our rules and procedures.
"But the issue can only be properly dealt with by all political parties working together to protect the interests of the Jewish community and to combat racism in politics, the media and in society more broadly. That includes the need for the Conservatives and other parties taking action to deal with racism in their own ranks.”
The investigation will heap pressure on Jeremy Corbyn who has been heavily criticised for failing to take a tough stance on rooting out anti-Jewish prejudice in his party.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson spoke of his "utter shame" that the investigation was taking place.
He said: "I have been warning both privately and publicly that we risked a vortex of shame if we didn’t do everything in our power to root out antisemitism in our ranks.
"The decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to launch a statutory investigation into Labour shows they have reasonable suspicion that the party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.
"I feel utter shame that this investigation is necessary but I truly hope that it will provide the means to finally root out anti-Jewish racism from our party once and for all."
Mike Katz, National Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement said he welcomed the full inquiry.
"For years we have been warning that the Labour Party's response to antisemitism without our ranks has been woeful at best, and institutionally racist as worst," he said.
"Last year we took the unprecedented step to refer the Party to the EHRC, and we welcome their decision today to launch a full statutory inquiry."
Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: "It is absolutely right that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should investigate anti-Jewish hatred in the Labour party.
"It is utterly shameful that Jeremy Corbyn should have led a party which was once justifiably proud of its record in fighting racism to this position.
"We hope this investigation will at last expose the leadership’s appalling role in allowing this cancer to take hold and destroy Labour’s moral authority."
"DAY OF SHAME"
The investigation will probe whether the party or its employees had committed "unlawful acts" as well examining whether complaints of unlawful acts had been handled in an "efficient and effective manner".
The group will also investigate whether the party's disciplinary process was sufficient to deal with "complaints of race or religion or belief discrimination and racial harassment or victimisation, including whether appropriate sanctions have been or could be applied".
Labour MP Wes Streeting said the investigation was a "day of shame" for the party.
"This is a day of great shame for the Labour party and a damning indictment on the failure of our leadership to respond to repeated warnings about the nature of our problem and what needs to be done to address it," he said.