KEIR Starmer has defended the decision to suspend Jeremy Corbyn, and warned that his predecessor could be expelled from the party.

The former leader of the opposition had the whip removed yesterday afternoon after he claimed Labour’s antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

He was speaking after the publication of a damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found the party was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination”.

The equalities watchdog identified what it called “serious failings in the Labour Party leadership in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints”.

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The body found the party had breached the Equality Act 2010 by interfering in antisemitism complaints, including instances of inappropriate involvement by the leader of the opposition’s office.

Asked for his response, Corbyn said he did not accept all the findings of the EHRC report and that the “problem was dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.

The suspension has sparked a furious round of infighting in the party, with allies of Corbyn, including MPs, shadow cabinet members and representatives for Unite and Momentum, meeting last night to discuss their next steps. .

According to the Telegraph, some of the unions closest to the veteran leftwinger are considering leaving Labour all together. 

One source told the paper: “We’ve reached a tipping point now. I think there are some people in Unite who think it may be time to discuss a new party. If Unite and the CWU decided to move, the Bakers Union, Aslef and TSSA may also move with them.” 

Len McCluskey, the boss of Unite - who are Labour's biggest funders - said Corbyn’s suspension would cause “chaos” in the party and cost it the next election.

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In a round of interviews this morning, Starmer said he had nothing to do with this disciplinary process, and that the decision had been taken by Labour’s general secretary, David Evans.

Asked if possible disciplinary action could include expulsion, Starmer said: “Yes, people have been expelled from the Labour party.” 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “But it’s not for me to say what process should be followed, that’s for the general secretary, or what sanction is in order. I don’t want a civil war in the Labour party. I don’t think there’s any need for one. I want to unite the party. But I’m not going to renege on my commitment to root out antisemitism.”

“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 added.

“And from discussions yesterday morning I’m in no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn and his team knew exactly what I was going to say in my response about not only antisemitism but the denial and the arguments about exaggeration, and it’s just a factional fight.

“That is why appropriate action was taken yesterday by the general secretary in suspending Jeremy Corbyn. That’s the right acton – very difficult action, but the right action, which I fully support.”

He added: “What I had hoped would happen yesterday is that we could accept what was going to be a very difficult day, draw a line in the sand and move on.

“And 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.

“That’s what I hoped would have happened yesterday. As it happens it took a different turn of events because of Jeremy Corbyn’s response.”

Corbyn has pledged to fight the suspension, calling it “political”.