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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

Corbyn will not regain Labour whip while endorsing Stop the War, suggests Starmer

Jeremy Corbyn at a Stop the War rally protesting against the war in Ukraine last week
Jeremy Corbyn at a Stop the War rally protesting against the war in Ukraine last week. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Jeremy Corbyn will not have the Labour whip restored while he continues to associate with the Stop the War coalition, Keir Starmer has suggested, saying it was “very clear” those who wanted to be Labour MPs had to be supporters of Nato and reject “false equivalence” between Nato and Russian aggression.

Starmer has previously suggested Corbyn may be allowed to return to sitting as a Labour MP if he apologises for a statement made in the wake of the equalities’ watchdog report into antisemitism. But speaking to the Guardian on Monday, the Labour leader suggested there was now a bigger obstacle to his return.

“Amongst the very clear changes of the Labour party that I’ve made, one is our approach on antisemitism, where I said I would tear it out by the roots. And that obviously led to the whip being removed from Jeremy Corbyn because of his response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission,” he said.

“And the other is to say there is no place in the Labour party for this false equivalence between Russian aggression and Nato, which is why the chief whip wrote letters to the Labour MPs on both those issues. I couldn’t be clearer about the Labour party that I lead.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine prompted Labour’s chief whip to write to all Labour MPs who had signed a Stop the War statement, warning them of disciplinary action if they did not withdraw their names.

The former shadow cabinet ministers Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, key Corbyn allies, also withdrew from a Stop the War rally.

Corbyn signed the statement and spoke at the rally. The motion urged Nato to “call a halt to its eastward expansion” and accused the UK government of “sabre-rattling” over Ukraine. He has since told Jacobin he is “horrified at the war in Ukraine, horrified at the loss of life”, but defended Stop the War, saying there was “no evidence that they’ve done anything other than stand up for peace around the world”.

Pressed on whether that meant Corbyn could not return until he too had disavowed his association with Stop the War, Starmer said that no one “should be in any doubt” about where Labour stood on both those issues, “on our unshakable support for Nato and on tearing out antisemitism”.

He said they were “very clear” requisites for being a Labour MP. “That’s the Labour party I lead.”

There have been private efforts by some leftwing MPs to bring a resolution to Corbyn’s suspension in recent months, which would have included the offer of a further apology, but sources on both sides have said efforts have reached an impasse.

Though Corbyn has been readmitted as a Labour member, Starmer has not allowed him to take the Labour whip, meaning he cannot sit as a Labour MP.

In a letter from the chief whip, Corbyn had been told he must commit to supporting the party’s efforts to comply with recommendations by the watchdog and apologise unequivocally for statements made after the critical report.

Allies of the former Labour leader have previously suggested they do not believe Starmer’s office was prepared to have discussions in good faith and claim a deal that was negotiated to readmit him after a clarifying statement was never upheld.

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