Corbyn Preserves Ambivalent Stance on Nuclear Weapons and NATO

  • Labour leader asked nine times about Trident in BBC interview
  • Corbyn previously called NATO a ‘dangerous Frankenstein’

Why the U.K. is Heading to the Polls… Again

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn held back from declaring support for Britain’s nuclear weapons program and for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as his security credentials came under examination in a BBC television interview, two weeks before the general election.

Corbyn was asked repeatedly whether he supported the renewal of Britain’s nuclear weapons system, known as Trident, and nine times he avoided giving a yes or no answer. He voted against upgrading Trident when his party took a ballot on the issue, with the majority overruling him.

“We’re going ahead with the program which has been agreed by Parliament and voted on by the Labour Party,” Corbyn said. “My views on nuclear weapons are well-known. I want to achieve a nuclear-free world through multilateral disarmament through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Corbyn’s views matter because if he wins the June 8 general election, he would have responsibility for deciding whether Britain would use its nuclear weapons. A YouGov poll Friday showed the lead held by rival Conservative Party has slipped to 5 percentage points, the narrowest since Theresa May became prime minister last July, and down from as high as 24 points earlier in the month. 

But on national security, Corbyn still fares far worse with the electorate than May. A longtime opponent of nuclear weapons, Corbyn said on becoming Labour leader in 2015 that he’d never deploy them, raising questions about the point in even having a deterrent.

‘Dangerous Frankenstein’

An ICM poll this month showed 44 percent of voters trust May the most to “protect people from threats at home and abroad” compared with just 14 percent for Corbyn, while Friday’s YouGov poll showed the prime minister is 22 percentage points ahead of Corbyn on the issue of keeping Britain safe from terrorism.

The BBC broadcaster also asked Corbyn whether he still believed NATO to be a “very dangerous Frankenstein of an organization,” dredging up past remarks by the Labour leader. Again Corbyn ducked answering whether he thought the postwar alliance should be wound up.

“I want to work within NATO to achieve stability,” Corbyn said. “I want to work within NATO to promote a human rights democracy and under a Labour government that’s exactly what we’d be doing.”

Read more: What Polling Swings Mean for the U.K. Election: QuickTake Q&A

His past support for Irish republicanism and the reunification of Ireland also came up. Corbyn said, “I didn’t support the IRA. I don’t support the IRA,” in reference to the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist group.

He denied ever meeting with the IRA, saying he had met with people from Sinn Fein, the political party associated with the IRA. “I always wanted and always do want peace, always want a dialogue between people of vastly different backgrounds,” he said.

The Conservatives hit back with a statement from International Development Secretary Priti Patel in which she said Corbyn “backed the IRA, doesn’t support NATO” and “wouldn’t renew Trident.” The Labour leader “didn’t answer a single question in that interview,” she said. “He spent half an hour trying to escape from everything he had said and done in his 30 years in politics.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.