Senior Labour figures have been forced to address claims the party is in the grip of a “civil war” over the future of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest aides.
The party is braced for the findings of a major documentary investigation into its handling of anti-Semitism claims and the shadow cabinet is also divided over Brexit and whether Labour should campaign to stay in the European Union in another referendum.
Labour is clamping down on former staff blowing the whistle on its handling of anti-Semitism allegations ahead of the BBC Panorama documentary, which is due to be aired on Wednesday.
The Sunday Times says up to half a dozen ex-employees have torn up non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to speak to the programme.
According to the paper, Carter Ruck – acting on behalf of Labour – has written to Sam Matthews, the party’s former head of disputes, warning he could face legal action for breaking his NDA.
A letter is reported to warn that the party “cannot be expected to and will not tolerate its former employees wantonly disregarding their obligations by selectively leaking information to the media”.
Another former aide also received warnings last year from a different law firm representing Labour, the paper said.
The newspaper also reported that two of Mr Corbyn’s closet allies in the shadow cabinet, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, have called on Mr Corbyn to sack two members of his inner circle – gatekeeper Karie Murphy and communications and strategy chief Seumas Milne.
In an effort to play down the row, shadow cabinet minister Barry Gardiner said: “The idea that they put forward that there’s a civil war in the Labour Party – let’s look at the real divide in this country.
“The real divide in this country is not within the Labour Party, the real divide in this country is between what the Conservatives are trying to do with our country and the rest.”
He also defended the party’s use of gagging clauses, insisting they were not being used to cover up wrongdoing.
The shadow international trade secretary said: “We absolutely do not use gagging orders to hide anything that is illegal or improper.
“We use gagging orders only to stop former members of staff from leaking confidential information where we have an obligation to protect individuals and for doing that in a party political or partisan way for political purposes.”
He said he would welcome “any objective, impartial investigation that’s going to help us to get rid of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” but “my understanding of this programme is that has not been balanced and impartial in that way”.
It involved talking to former party staff members who had a “political axe to grind”, he claimed.
The BBC documentary, entitled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?, will see reporter John Ware explore the ongoing anti-Semitism row, and will feature interviews from “key insiders”, according to the programme synopsis.
A Labour source accused the BBC of creating a “one-sided narrative” and said it would be complaining to the director-general, telling the paper: “With a possible general election around the corner, this smacks of bias and interference in the political process by the BBC and a clear breach of their own editorial guidelines.”
Wes Streeting, Labour’s MP for Ilford North, said he would “whistleblow in (the) House of Commons for anyone who needs me to do so”.
Labour opposes NDAs yet seems to impose them. Iâm protected by Parliamentary privilege. Iâll whistleblow in House of Commons for anyone who needs me to do so. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. No more excuses or hiding places. You should promise the same @jeremycorbyn. https://t.co/Fz6boYLlkl— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) July 6, 2019
Writing on Twitter, he said: “Labour opposes NDAs yet seems to impose them. I’m protected by Parliamentary privilege. I’ll whistleblow in House of Commons for anyone who needs me to do so. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. No more excuses or hiding places. You should promise the same @jeremycorbyn.”
Chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement Mike Katz said: “Given Labour has called for scrapping of NDAs & greater legal protection for whistleblowers, it’s both hypocritical and just plain wrong of it to set expensive lawyers on former staff who are acting in the public interest to shine a light on institutional anti-Jewish racism.”
Mr Gardiner also used the interview to address the party’s position on Brexit.
In March, Mr Gardiner had said that Labour is “not a Remain party now”, but he told Sky News: “We have always been a remain and reform party. We tried to reconcile ourselves with what the democratic will of the people was at that referendum and we tried to do that sincerely.
“But we have always said we would not accept a no deal.
“We now have two Conservative putative prime ministers who are saying they are happy to take us out on a no deal.”
Labour’s position in its next election manifesto would be decided in a “clause five meeting” with “all the key elements of our party” involved, he said.