Jeremy Corbyn has put himself on a collision course with his own Labour shadow cabinet over defence policy by declaring he would never launch a nuclear strike if he was prime minister.
The Labour leader, who said he could “obviously” imagine being in Number 10, stressed he has a mandate from party members for his opposition to renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent.
But his comments were described as unhelpful by shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle, who said they “undermined to some degree” the review she is carrying out of the party’s defence policy.
Ms Eagle told the BBC that Labour’s current policy is in favour of retaining a nuclear deterrent, adding: “I don’t think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that, in the way in which he did, is helpful.”
Responding to Ms Eagle’s comment, Mr Corbyn told reporters: We are going to have discussion and a debate about how we fulfil our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we will go forward from there.
“There’s no decision required until probably next summer on this. I hold a view which is well known on nuclear weapons and it is a view which I have held all my life,” he said.
Asked whether he stood by his statement that he would not use nuclear weapons as prime minister, he replied: “Would anybody press the nuclear button?”
He added: “Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction that take out millions of civilians. They didn’t do the USA much good on 9/11. The problems of this world are not huge wars in that way, the problems are much more from random acts of terrorism.”
Shadow transport minister Jonathan Reynolds made clear that the Labour front bench team is divided on Trident. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Corbyn said “we are not in the era of the Cold War any more” as he defended his stance on Trident but said Labour is not a divided party.
He said: “There are five declared nuclear weapon states in the world. There are three others that have nuclear weapons. That is eight countries out of 192.”
Asked if he would use nuclear weapons if he was in Downing Street, he said: “No, 187 countries don’t feel the need to have a nuclear weapon to protect their security, why should those five need it themselves? ”
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