Corbyn will do whatever it takes to defend UK, says shadow defence secretary

Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith has said that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is “not a pacifist” and would do “whatever it takes” to defend the UK.

Ms Griffith said there could be circumstances where the threat to the UK was such that Trident could be used under a Labour government, despite its leader being a long-standing critic of nuclear weapons.

She was also grilled on Mr Corbyn’s position on killing suicide-vest wearing terrorists after he was criticised earlier this month for saying it would have been the “right thing” to arrest the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Ms Griffith said security was a “top priority” for Labour and that Mr Corbyn is “absolutely committed to the defence of the country”.

HMS Vigilant carries the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent (James Glossop/The Times)
HMS Vigilant carries the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent (James Glossop/The Times)

Speaking at a defence debate organised by the Royal United Services Institute, Ms Griffith said: “Look, Jeremy Corbyn takes the defence and security of this country extremely seriously and will do whatever it takes to defend this country.

“The point is he is a very thoughtful leader who wants to see the full facts and wants to have the full information in any decision making that he makes, and so he will take a very measured approach and as would all experts in the field.”

She added: “But at the end of the day, if it is a threat to security – as I have said and he has repeated on many occasions – he will do whatever it takes, and that is an absolute commitment.”

Pushed on whether there is a case for killing those who lead terrorist organisations, Ms Griffith said there is sometimes “a case for eliminating those individuals”.

She said: “I think everybody here is very well aware of international law, is very well aware that the idea is to bring those people to justice and to make them face the trial and the consequences for their actions.

“But quite clearly, when we are dealing with people who wear suicide vests and who put themselves and others in immediate danger, then we have to do what it takes, and there is a case, there is a case for eliminating those individuals.”

Responding to calls from audience members that Mr Corbyn has not said that he would support taking out terrorists if they pose a threat to the UK, Ms Griffith said that Mr Corbyn is “not a pacifist” and “has been willing to intervene”, such as in East Timor.

On the question of nuclear weapons, Ms Griffith said there could be circumstances where Mr Corbyn would press the button.

She said: “The point about having a deterrent is it is there, it is a threat, our enemies know that we have it, they know that we could use it, they know there could be circumstances where the threat to us was such that we would use it.”

Mr Corbyn has in the past said he would not authorise a nuclear strike – even though the party is committed to retaining Trident.

Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the International Relations and Defence Committee Baroness Smith’s then intervened to say nuclear weapons are not a deterrent if a potential leader of the country, Mr Corbyn, will not use them.

Ms Griffith replied: “The point, the point is – is that when you are faced with the ultimate defence and security of your country then you may very well do things that perhaps you would not do in normal circumstances and therefore it will remain as a deterrent.”

Labour peer Lord West, former first sea lord, then responded from the audience that he would be “much happier” if Ms Griffith’s finger was on the nuclear button and said he is “really, really worried” by Mr Corbyn’s failure to clarify his position on this issue.

Another issue of contention was the transparency of Special Forces, with Ms Griffith arguing that there is a “very strong case for greater transparency”, something Defence Secretary Ben Wallace deemed as unnecessary.

Ms Griffith added that it is “absolutely vital that no operational detail is inadvertently put out”, and suggested that a committee, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee chaired by Independent parliamentary candidate Dominic Grieve, carry out the additional scrutiny.

“There is a place for it, and I think it could be done in a very responsible way,” she said.

Mr Wallace disagreed with Ms Griffith and said that Special Forces’ tasks are “over-sighted by the Intelligence and Security Committee already”.

He added: “I think that the Special Forces wouldn’t be special, actually, partly, if we did too much of that oversight.

“I don’t think the timing is necessary or right to do it.”

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