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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Corbyn splits Labour Party over his response to Salisbury attack

Like many people I found the performance of the Leader of the Opposition in responding to the statement on the Salisbury attacks to be absolutely astonishing.

Putting aside the tradition of MPs from all parties coming together to defend the UK when we are under attack, why was Corbyn using the Commons chamber to question basic facts when he has other avenues available to him.

As leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn is a member of the Privy Council and able to ask for detailed briefings on intelligence matters. If he did not avail himself of that opportunity and instead chose to use a public event to question the government's position, then he deserves all the disapprobation poured on him by all sides.

The Guardian editorial, already endorsed by one member of the Labour front bench sums it up perfectly:

Jeremy Corbyn invited Mrs May to acquiesce to Russia’s requests that a sample be sent to Moscow for verification – on the supposition that the Kremlin might then honestly try to match it with its own stores. He sounded too keen to find another explanation for the use of the nerve agent novichok in the attack.

There are many reasons to be wary whenever governments ask for cross-party support. Oppositions have a duty to challenge prime ministers in the most critical circumstances. Nations should not act in haste over such issues. But Mr Corbyn’s reluctance to share Mrs May’s basic analysis of the Salisbury incident made him look eager to exonerate a hostile power.

As the Independent explains, Jeremy Corbyn's position sparked a furious with Labour MPs who first stood to take an overtly different line in the Commons and then took action outside the Chamber to set themselves apart:

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, was among those who differentiated herself from the leader’s position.

She said Russia’s actions must be met with “unequivocal condemnation”, while long-time Corbyn critic John Woodcock said: “This is a day for the House to speak as one for the nation, and (Ms May) will be reassured to hear that a clear majority of Labour MPs, alongside the leaders of every other party, support the firm stance which she is taking.”

Labour former minister Pat McFadden earlier told the Chamber: “Responding with strength and resolve when your country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership.

“There is a Labour tradition that understands that and it has been understood by prime ministers of all parties who have stood at that despatch box.

“That means when chemical weapons are used, we need more than words, but deeds.”

Backbenchers Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie and Stephen Doughty also made comments supportive of Ms May’s stance.

Nobody is suggesting that Corbyn should have accepted the intelligence without question, but at a time when the UK Government is taking action against Russia, I believe that his critics within Labour would have preferred a far more statesmanlike approach in which the Labour leader raised doubts and asked questions in private briefings and only spoke out when he was certain of his own facts.
Local Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) and Nia Griffith (llanelli) have also strongly repudiated their party leader's line. Ms Griffith is a front-bench spokesman for Labour.

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