Labour leader Keir Starmer said there is “no reason for a civil war” in the party after the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn for his response to a damning anti-Semitism report.
He appealed for unity and an end to “factional fighting” on Friday amid the fallout from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) finding the party broke equality law when Corbyn was in charge.
Starmer also said he was “deeply disappointed” by Corbyn’s response to the watchdog’s report.
Corbyn, who led the party until April, was suspended by the party after he refused to fully accept the findings and said anti-Semitism had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.
Starmer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is no reason for a civil war, there’s no reason to lean inwards, that is not what I want
“I want to unite the party that is the basis on which I ran my leadership campaign, I want to unite the party to stop the faction.”
Starmer said Corbyn and his team “knew exactly” that he would warn that any suggestion the issue had been exaggerated could lead to expulsion.
“I’m deeply disappointed in that response from Jeremy Corbyn yesterday not least because I spoke to him the night before the report to set out how I intended to deal with it,” he said.
But Corbyn issued a statement regardless to accuse the media and his political opponents of having overstated the scale of the problem and say “I do not accept all” of the EHRC findings.
The EHRC concluded the party was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination and found evidence of “political interference” in the complaints process by then leader Corbyn’s office.
Corbyn said he will “strongly contest” the decision to suspend him pending an investigation, which also meant the Islington North MP had the Labour whip removed in Parliament.
Len McCluskey, the boss of the Unite union, said the move was “an act of grave injustice which, if not reversed, will create chaos within the party and in doing so compromise Labour’s chances of a general election victory”.
“A split party will be doomed to defeat,” he added.
Starmer, who was forced to defend his time supporting Corbyn as his shadow Brexit secretary, said he wanted to be able to “draw a line in the sand” after the long-awaited report’s publication but that Corbyn hindered that.
“I’ve spoken extensively to Jewish communities, Jewish leaders over the last six months, that’s what they wanted to happen yesterday, an ability to recognise the hurt, draw a line and move on,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“That’s what I hoped would’ve happened yesterday, as it happens it took a different response because of Jeremy Corbyn’s response.”
The EHRC report published on Thursday found three breaches of the Equality Act relating to political interference in complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism cases and harassment.
The party has been served with an unlawful act notice and has been given until December 10 to draft an action plan to implement the report’s recommendations.
The notice is legally enforceable by the courts if not fulfilled.
Starmer committed to implementing the recommendations as quickly as possible on what he called a “day of shame” for Labour.