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May calls on Corbyn to apologise for 'failure to deal with racism' in Labour

The Guardian/PA Wire

By Harriet Line and Sam Blewett, PA Political Staff

Prime Minister Theresa May has called on Jeremy Corbyn to apologise for his "failure to deal with racism" in his party.

Mrs May accused the Labour leader of not opening his eyes to anti-Semitism, following months of mounting criticism over his handling of the issue.

During Prime Minister's Questions, she referenced an advert in the Guardian newspaper taken out by more than 60 Labour peers which criticises Mr Corbyn for a "toxic culture you have allowed to divide our movement".

Mrs May told the Commons: "Before (Mr Corbyn) stands up and parades himself as the champion of climate change, or the champion of the people, or the defender of equality and fairness, he needs to apologise for his failure to deal with racism in the Labour Party.

"Just today 60 distinguished members of the Labour Party have written in the newspapers the Labour Party welcomes everyone 'except, it seems, Jews'.

"This is your legacy Mr Corbyn. You still haven't opened your eyes, you still haven't told the whole truth, you still haven't accepted your responsibility. You have failed the test of leadership, apologise now."

Mr Corbyn insisted Labour "totally opposes" racism in all its forms and hit back at the PM over Islamophobia within Conservative ranks.

He said: "This party totally opposes racism in any form whatsoever. Anti-Semitism has no place in our society, no place in any of our parties, and no place in any of our dialogue. Neither does any other form of racism.

"When 60% of Tory Party members think Islam is a threat to Western civilisation, and the Prime Minister has said she will act on Islamophobia within her own party, I hope she does, I look forward to that being dealt with as we deal with any racism that occurs within our own party as well."

The advert, supported by a total of 67 Labour peers, including Peter Hain, Peter Mandelson and Robert Winston, comes after a damning report by BBC Panorama into the party's handling of allegations of anti-Semitism.

It says the party is no longer a "safe place" for its members and supporters.

"We are saying you are accountable as Leader for allowing anti-Semitism to grow in our party and presiding over the most shaming period in Labour's history," the peers add.

They also accuse Mr Corbyn of not having "opened (his) eyes" or "accepted responsibility" for the row which has engulfed the party.

"We can't be a credible alternative government that will bring the country together if we can't get our own house in order," the advert says.

"Your failure to do the right thing will lead to the failure of the Labour Party being able to make our country a better place for the people and communities we seek to serve."

Mrs May went on to accuse Mr Corbyn of "dodging his responsibilities" during PMQs, adding: "The real disgrace is his handling of racism in the Labour Party.

"Activists protesting, MPs leaving, staff resigning - what will his great heroes of Attlee, Bevan and Benn think?

"Look what he has done to their party. We will never let him do it to our country."

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell earlier said he would listen to the views of the Labour peers.

He told PA: "We'll listen to their views. I'm not sure why they've put an advert in the Guardian - they could have just written to us or popped in for a meeting. But we'll listen to them and say 'what are the concerns?'."

Mr McDonnell insisted Labour is a "safe place for Jewish people", but said: "If there are real concerns we have to listen to them: no matter where they are expressed or how they are expressed, let's listen to them and let's resolve it."

Asked if the peers were wrong to put an advert in a newspaper, he said: "It's up to them, that's their choice.

"Adverts in the Guardian are quite expensive... they could have used it on a Jewish charity tackling anti-Semitism, for example.

"But that's the way they want to communicate, they've done it. I'd have rather they just picked up the phone and came and met Jeremy."

Labour MP Wes Streeting said Mr Corbyn has "lost the moral high ground through his failure to act on anti-Semitism".

He tweeted: "This #PMQs is painful. Tories haven't got a leg to stand on: Windrush, the hostile environment and their failure to tackle Islamophobia.

"But @jeremycorbyn has lost the moral high ground through his failure to act on antisemitism - is instead left throwing mud from the gutter."