Jeremy Corbyn has accused Labour of making a “political decision not a legal one” in paying substantial damages to seven ex-employees following a BBC Panorama investigation into anti-Semitism within the party.
The whistleblowers, who were responsible for the probe into alleged misconduct by party members, sued Labour over “defamatory and false allegations”.
The legal action followed the broadcast in July 2019 of the programme titled ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’
Following the brief hearing on Wednesday, Labour issued an “unreserved apology” to all seven whistleblowers, adding: “We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying.”
Former Labour leader Mr Corbyn said in a post shared on Facebook the “disappointing” decision risked “giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations” about action to tackle anti-Semitism in Labour.
Mr Corbyn and Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union which is Labour’s biggest donor, both pointed to a leaked report which detailed the factional splits within the party’s HQ as a potential defence to the defamation case.
“Labour Party members have a right to accountability and transparency of decisions taken in their name, and an effective commitment from the party to combat antisemitism and racism in all their forms,” said Mr Corbyn.
“The Party’s decision to apologise today and make substantial payments to former staff who sued the party in relation to last year’s Panorama programme is a political decision, not a legal one.”
He continued: “Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence, and the evidence in the leaked Labour report that is now the subject of an NEC inquiry led by Martin Forde QC strengthened concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the programme.
“The decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in recent years.
“To give our members the answers and justice they deserve, the inquiry led by Martin Forde must now fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 general election campaign.”
Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations under Mr Corbyn’s leadership is the subject of an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – and current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has already received a draft report from the watchdog.
The party said that under Sir Keir and deputy leader Angela Rayner, Labour is “committed to tackling anti-Semitism”.
In a statement, the party said: “Anti-Semitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years. It has caused unacceptable and unimaginable levels of grief and distress for many in the Jewish community, as well as members of staff.
“If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership.”
The group, who worked in the party’s governance and legal unit, said attempts had been made to undermine their reputation.
This included being described by a party spokesman as “disaffected former staff” who had “personal and political axes” to grind.
In the Panorama episode, a number of the former officials alleged senior Labour figures had interfered in the process of dealing with anti-Semitic complaints.
The settlement was welcomed by Jewish Labour campaigners.
Senior MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: “This is a big step in the right direction and shows just how far the Labour Party has come since last year.”
The Jewish Labour Movement added: “It is a sad reflection of its historic role as the party of working people that Labour sought to pursue and silence its former employees for speaking out against racism.”
The BBC welcomed the “long overdue apology” to Mr Ware and the Panorama whistleblowers.