Key figures on the Labour leader’s frontbench apologised on Wednesday after Mr Corbyn refused to do so four times during his interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil.
Mr Corbyn gave his backing to what he said was a party-wide apology, which came after the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis staged an unprecedented intervention into politics, saying the opposition leader was unfit to be Prime Minister over the “poison – sanctioned from the top” within Labour.
But Mr Corbyn did not go as far as to issue one in his own name when speaking at a campaign stop in Falmouth. Asked if he would apologise for incidents within the party and his handling of the issue, the Labour leader reiterated that the degree of anti-Semitism within Labour “is very, very small”.
“Jennie Formby our general secretary has written a substantial article in the Jewish News today making clear the party deeply regrets and is very sorry for what happened before the new rules came in and obviously I support everything that she has said on that,” he said.
The article by the leader of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee said Rabbi Mirvis “has every right to highlight the anxiety that Jewish people feel” and defended the party’s current disciplinary process but did not include an apology.
Pressed on whether backing the article is as good as a personal apology, Mr Corbyn said: “I have made it very clear that our party will not tolerate racism in any form or anti-Semitism in any form, and our party obviously deplores it and regrets what happened to those people who received that abuse, and they have received the appropriate sanctions within the party, some of whom have been expelled.”
Mr Corbyn earlier released a leaked dossier on US-UK trade talks as he desperately sought to shift the election spotlight on to the NHS and away from the anti-Semitism scandal.
He claimed the 451 pages of documents proved the health service would be “on the table” during trade negotiations.
But his attempt to drop a bombshell into the election debate was overshadowed by his refusal to give a fresh apology over Labour’s failure to properly tackle anti-Semitism among party members.
Health experts told the Evening Standard that the papers, marked “Official — Sensitive (UK eyes only)”, showed the US seeking restrictions which would put up the cost of drugs to the NHS — but not that a trade deal would lead to the health service being broken up with far more privatisation.
Mr Corbyn put out the dossier hours after he refused four times to say “sorry” for the anti-Semitism storm during a bruising 30-minute grilling by BBC interrogator Andrew Neil on race hate, tax and terrorism.
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner angrily rebuked a reporter for asking about the controversy this morning instead of focusing on the dossier.
Boris Johnson was swift to dismiss the documents as a “diversionary” tactic and stressed that there was “no way” that the NHS would be on the table during trade talks.
Speaking in Cornwall, the Prime Minister said: “It’s total nonsense … The NHS is not on the table in any way… in no aspect whatever.”
However, Mr Corbyn alleged that the papers showed the Americans were pushing for “total market access” in services and that the NHS would be carved into privatised blocks for auction.
“We are talking here about secret talks for a deal with Donald Trump after Brexit, a deal that will shape our country’s future,” he added.
The NHS is mentioned only four times in the documents, which were handed out to the media by NHS workers wearing scrubs at Church House in central London this morning.
Mr Corbyn was on Wednesday pressed three times on the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
He said: “Our party did make it clear when I was elected leader, and after that, that anti-Semitism was unacceptable in any form in our party or our society and did indeed offer its sympathies and apologies to those that had suffered.” He added: “I will die fighting against racism in any form.”
However, his strong words left even more questions over why he would not issue a fresh apology — with a shadow cabinet minister branding the party’s slow action to deal with the problem a “shame on us”.
Mr Corbyn has previously apologised over the matter, saying in August last year: “I am sorry for the hurt that has been caused to many Jewish people. We have been too slow in processing disciplinary cases of, mostly, online anti-Semitic abuse by party members. We are acting to speed this process up.”
Just hours after the Neil grilling, shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith said during a TV election debate in Wales: “I would say absolutely that we need to apologise to our colleagues in my own party who have been very upset and to the whole of the Jewish community, that we have not been as effective as we should have been in dealing with this problem.”
She added: “It is a shame on us, it really is, and it is something that I am very, very ashamed of, and something we must absolutely put right.”
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon failed to clarify the confusion over Labour’s position on a fresh apology. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I listened just now to what Nia Griffith said and I agree with what she said. Jeremy has apologised on a number of occasions and said that he’s sorry for the very real hurt felt by people in the Jewish community.”
Labour was put on the back foot after a startling intervention in the election campaign by the Chief Rabbi earlier this week, in which he branded the Labour leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism as “incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud — of dignity and respect for all people”.
At the same time, the Conservatives came under pressure over their handling of allegations of Islamophobia following a claim by Mr Johnson that party members guilty of anti-Muslim racism “are out first bounce”.
The Muslim Council of Britain claimed that far from kicking them out, the Tory party had a “blind spot for this type of racism” and a record of failing to take action.
Mr Corbyn’s leadership took another blow as the Scottish Nationalists said they could refuse to let him become prime minister in a hung parliament.