Jeremy Corbyn today refused to give his personal backing to Nato as he insisted a Labour government would maintain the UK’s membership of the alliance despite him previously calling for the organisation to be scrapped.
The Labour leader has been a vocal critic of Nato during his political career and in 2014 he claimed it was set up to ‘promote’ the Cold War with Russia as he demanded it ‘close down’.
The general election and the fact that Nato leaders are in London this week for a summit to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary have prompted renewed scrutiny of Mr Corbyn’s comments.
He was grilled on whether he personally supports Nato during an interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 this afternoon.
He repeatedly set out the Labour Party’s position but refused to be drawn on his own views.
He said: ‘Our party recognises that we are members of Nato and that is clearly in our manifesto.’
Jeremy Corbyn, pictured at a campaign event in London today, has previously called for Nato to ‘close down’
Mr Corbyn, pictured in London today, claimed at an event in 2014 that Nato had been set up after the Second World War to ‘promote a Cold War with the Soviet Union’
Tories have 12-point poll lead as election looms
Boris Johnson and the Tories hold a 12 point poll lead over Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party with the general election now just nine days away.
A new survey conducted by Kantar between November 28 and December 2 puts the Conservative Party on 44 per cent overall, a one per cent increase on the company’s last poll on November 26.
But while the Tories have edged forward, Labour has stalled with the party recording a rating of 32 per cent – the same as the last poll.
Mr Corbyn said supporting continued Nato membership had been ‘accepted by the party’.
He continued: ‘What I want to do is make sure we use our membership of Nato to reduce tensions and to increase dialogue but also at the same time be very strong on issues of human rights, be they in Russia or Turkey or anywhere else around the world.
‘I do think Nato has issues to face over the relationship between Turkey and other Nato states but also its relations with Russia and [Nato secretary general] Stoltenberg has always maintained, as I understand it, the position there has to be a dialogue, albeit a very robust dialogue, with Russia which includes human rights as well as their other behaviour.’
Mr Corbyn was then asked if he stood by the comments he made just five years ago when he said he wanted Nato to be scrapped.
He refused to directly answer the question as he said: ‘It is a Cold War product, as we all know, it was set up after the Second World War.
‘It actually developed from the Atlantic charter and the whole thing was tit for tat between the Warsaw Pact and Nato and that led to a deepening of the Cold War.
‘Nato still exists. We will be members of it and I will be a voice that I hope will aim to deescalate tensions and improve dialogue.’
Asked if he wanted the UK to pull out of the alliance he again refused to engage with the question as he said: ‘Our manifesto says that we will play a constructive role.’
An exasperated Mr Vine said: ‘I feel your heart is not in this. It’s not is it?’
Mr Corbyn replied: ‘With the greatest respect, Jeremy, you can’t see into my heart.’
Mr Vine then told the Labour leader that ‘whenever I ask you a question, you say what your manifesto says’ rather than setting out his own view.
‘I am the leader of the Labour Party and I am standing on our manifesto and our manifesto is what I am responsible for delivering,’ Mr Corbyn added.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly questioned the Labour leader’s national security credentials and today the Prime Minister accused him of siding with ‘our enemies’.
Labour’s manifesto states that ‘we will maintain our commitment to NATO’ and continue to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence.
Nato leaders, including Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, are in London for a summit to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance
The party’s support for the alliance is at direct odds with comments made by Mr Corbyn at a protest ahead of a Nato summit in Newport, Wales, in 2014.
Addressing the crowd, Mr Corbyn said he believed Nato needed to be ‘taken to task’ as he claimed it ‘was founded in order to promote a cold war with the Soviet Union’.
Speaking a year before he became Labour leader, Mr Corbyn said Nato should have ‘shut up shop’ when the Cold War came to a close.
‘It did not happen because the Nato leadership were very keen to appease their friends in the arms industries and expand their ideas and expand their operation,’ Mr Corbyn said.
The veteran left-wing MP then claimed Nato was ‘an engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies and the main nations of this world’ before demanding it be disbanded.
‘Why don’t we turn it around, close down Nato, invest in people, invest in peace, invest in jobs, invest in hope, not create the intolerance and detestation that is led by wars and leads also to racism and intolerance within our own society,’ he said.