Keir Starmer
Keir StarmerReuters

Britain's main opposition Labour party agreed Wednesday to pay "substantial damages" to whistleblowers who exposed its handling of anti-Semitism claims under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called the decision "disappointing".

The party, now led by Keir Starmer following Corbyn's heavy defeat in a December election, apologized for the "defamatory and false allegations" made against contributors to a 2019 BBC Panorama investigation into anti-Semitism within the party.

Seven former party staff, tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct by party members, sued their former employer after its leadership accused them of having "personal and political axes to grind" by speaking to the BBC.

"Before the broadcast of the Panorama program, the Labour party issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations about the whistleblowers," their barrister William Bennett told London's High Court.

The party agreed to retracted its claims, and said in a statement that "anti-Semitism has been a stain on the Labour Party in recent years.

"It has caused unacceptable and unimaginable levels of grief and distress for many in the Jewish community, as well as members of staff," said the Labour statement.

"If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership."

Corbyn said the decision to settle the claims was "disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle anti-semitism in the Labour Party in recent years."

He accused his successor of taking a "political decision, not a legal one", setting up a clash between supporters loyal to Corbyn and those backing Starmer within the party.