Corbyn and May trade blows over racism in their parties

Labour leader and PM each demand apologies over their handling of the issue

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have traded blows in the House of Commons over antisemitism and Islamophobia, each demanding an apology for racism in their respective parties.

Corbyn opened May’s penultimate prime minister’s questions on Wednesday by attacking the government’s record on the climate emergency but May switched to criticise Labour over what she called a “failure to deal with racism”.

Referring to an advert in the Guardian, which was submitted by 60 Labour peers and criticised Corbyn for the ongoing antisemitism crisis, May said: “There is an issue that needs to be addressed in this house.

“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 … You have failed the test of leadership, apologise now.”

Corbyn responded by accusing May of a failure to deal with Islamophobia in the Conservative party, which he suggested was more widespread.

“When 60% of Tory party members think Islam is a threat to civilisation and as the prime minister has said she will act on Islamophobia in her own party, I hope she will. I look forward to seeing her deal with that and we will deal with any racism in our own party as well,” he said.

“Coming from a prime minister who encouraged the hostile environment, deported British citizens who she has now had to compensate, she might look to her own party and her own government’s record as well.”

Corbyn said Labour “totally opposes racism in any form whatsoever. Antisemitism has no place in our society and no place in any our parties or any of our dialogue. Neither does any form of racism.”

May, who will take her last PMQs next Wednesday before handing over to her successor, repeatedly returned to the issue during the exchange.

“We deal with Islamophobia in the Conservative party and any allegations of Islamophobia are dealt with, unlike his way in the Labour party where he is failing to deal with antisemitism,” she said.

“The real disgrace is his handling of racism in the Labour party, activists protesting, MPs leaving and staff resigning – what would his great heroes Attlee, Bevan and Benn think? Look what he has done to his party, we will never let him do it to our country.”

Labour peers, including more than a dozen former ministers such as Peter Hain, Beverley Hughes and John Reid, addressed the advert to Corbyn. It said: “The Labour party welcomes everyone* irrespective of race, creed, age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (*except, it seems, Jews.) This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.”

Representing about a third of Labour’s members in the House of Lords, the signatories told Corbyn the party was “no longer a safe place for all members” and claimed thousands had resigned their membership “because of the toxic culture you have allowed to divide our movement”.

A survey published last month by Hope Not Hate found widespread Islamophobic attitudes among Conservative members, including nearly two-thirds of Tory activists saying they believed the religion was “a threat to western civilisation”.

It also found 54% of Tory members believed Islam was “generally a threat to the British way of life”.

Boris Johnson, the Tory leadership frontrunner, was recently criticised for a 2007 essay unearthed by the Guardian in which he claimed Islam had caused the Muslim world to be “literally centuries behind” the west and that “Muslim grievance” was a factor in virtually every conflict.

Contributor

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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