Britain’s equality watchdog is close to deciding if it will launch an inquiry into whether the Labour party’s handling of antisemitism cases complies with equalities law.
If the Equality and Human Rights Commission decides to investigate, it would be a significant blow to Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, because the bar for launching a formal investigation into whether the party is carrying out its statutory duties is relatively high.
The EHRC said it “can only commence an investigation where we suspect that an organisation has committed an unlawful act”, using powers introduced when the last Labour government passed the Equality Act in 2006.
Commission sources indicated on Wednesday that a final decision was due within days, prompting intense speculation in Labour circles at Westminster that the party could be the subject of a rare legal inquiry.
Labour is already embroiled in a bitter row over the handling of antisemitism complaints and anti-Jewish sentiment in the party, which has led to conflicts in both Westminster and local parties.
A series of leaked emails have cast doubt on the role of senior allies of the Labour leader in overseeing complaints in recent days.
Key staff asked to be copied in on complaints last year, appearing to contradict Labour claims that the complaints process has been kept separate from Corbyn advisers.
Corbyn, however, has repeatedly insisted, including to Jewish community leaders, that the process of examining antisemitism complaints is not a political one, and is kept at arm’s length from his team.
The EHRC is preparing to rule on a dossier complied by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which has asked the body to open an investigation into “discrimination against Jews and victimisation of those who oppose antisemitism within the Labour party”. A second complaint, thought to be more detailed, was also filed by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).
The CAA’s complaint dates back to last July. The EHRC responded by asking the pressure group for a full legal submission, which was sent in November.
At the time, Gideon Falter – the CAA’s chair – said its claim was based on the fact that “under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour party has become institutionally antisemitic”.