LONDON (AP) — Britain’s opposition Labour Party has agreed to pay substantial damages to seven whistleblowers who sued for defamation after they voiced concerns of anti-Semitism within the party.
The seven former employees appeared on a BBC investigative program last year looking into whether the Labour Party was anti-Semitic. They criticized Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints and sued after the party issued a statement describing the group as having “personal and political axes to grind.”
The former employees, who worked in the party’s governance and legal unit, were also accused of trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, who was Labour’s leader at the time.
Mark Henderson, a lawyer for the party, told the High Court on Wednesday that the party acknowledged that “the claims about the claimants are untrue” and apologized to the group.
The settlement and the apology underlined how much the party’s new leader, Keir Starmer, is seeking to tackle the anti-Semitism claims that have plagued Labour for years. Starmer hopes to steer the party back toward the center after the divisive tenure of left-wing predecessor Corbyn.
Corbyn, a longtime supporter of Palestinians and a critic of Israel, has faced allegations that he allowed anti-Semitism to fester in the party.
“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years,” the party said in a statement Wednesday. “If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership.”
But Corbyn said Wednesday that settling the case was “a political decision, not a legal one.” He said it was a “disappointing” move that “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations” about previous actions to tackle anti-Semitism within Labour.
The party also agreed to pay damages to the journalist who made the television program, and apologized for alleging at the time that he “invented quotes” and “flouted journalistic ethics.” The total amount of the damages wasn’t disclosed.
Corbyn stepped down as leader in December after Labour had its worst general election showing since 1935.