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Shadow Brexit secretary urges Labour to listen to critics of anti-Semitism rules

The code states that prejudice against Jews is ‘unacceptable in our party’ but insists criticism of Israel is legitimate.

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Labour Party to listen to critics of its new anti-Semitism code and make changes to their position “sharpish”.

The shadow Brexit secretary said he supported the full definition outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), despite Labour’s new code of conduct stopping short of signing up to it in full.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that his party should “reflect on what’s been said in the last few days and if we are not in a position of supporting the full definition we need to get into that position and sharpish”.

The new code, designed to root anti-Jewish prejudice out of the party, states explicitly that “anti-Semitism is racism. It is unacceptable in our party and in wider society”.

But it stops short of signing up in full to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

And it insists that criticism of the state of Israel and its policies should not automatically be regarded as anti-Semitic, and makes clear that even “contentious” comments on this issue “will not be treated as anti-Semitism unless accompanied by specific anti-Semitic content… or by other evidence of anti-Semitic intent”.

A Labour spokeswoman said the party had adopted “the full IHRA definition”.

We have to be very clear about our position on this Sir Keir Starmer

Campaigners against anti-Semitism have urged Labour to think again about the code, with leading Jewish figures saying it was “impossible to understand” why Labour had stopped short of joining the UK Jewish community, the British, Welsh and Scottish governments and numerous local councils in adopting the IHRA definition in full.

Sir Keir said he supported the “full definition”, telling the programme: “Councils, institutions across the country have accepted the full definition.

“I think that’s the right position to be in.”

Asked why Labour has not adopted the definition, he said: “There’s some argument as to whether Labour has or hasn’t, but I would urge everybody within the Labour Party to listen to the voices that have come out in recent days and get to a position where we are supporting the full definition.

“I think it’s really important, including the examples. We have to be very clear about our position on this.”

Shadow cabinet minister Tony Lloyd told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “What Labour has most certainly committed to is that we will match up to the standards of the IHRA because that is something that has been adapted and adopted throughout the length and breadth of this country of ours.

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Sir Keir Starmer appearing on the current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

“What Labour has tried to do on top of that is to make it something that is applicable, that Labour can operationalise in the event of people breaching that standard.

“Within that I am clearly advised that would include the situation of Ken Livingstone, for example.”

He was challenged on whether the rule change would mean that people claiming “Israelis are f****** Nazis” would not be considered anti-Semitic.

“I think it would,” he said.

“The important point about this is that Labour is still in consultation with different Jewish organisations … We have got to listen to what people are saying back to us and making sure that the standard we come up with is one that conforms to the standards of the IHRA but importantly also allows us to operationalise that in practical terms to take action where there’s breach from that.”

A Labour Party spokeswoman said: “Labour has adopted the full IHRA definition on anti-Semitism in our Code of Conduct, which covers all the same ground as the IHRA examples.

“But, as a political party, we needed to go further to produce a more thorough and detailed code for members which can actually be put into practice and enforced.”

A Labour source added: “Keir was acknowledging that concerns have been raised by the NEC’s decision and hopes these concerns will be responded to as part of ongoing discussions and dialogue the party is having with Jewish organisations.

“He supports the ongoing work the party is undertaking to root out anti-Semitism.”

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