No one who has followed Jeremy Corbyn attitude towards Britain’s security establishment these past four decades is going to be taken in by the Labour leader’s sudden expression of interest in the well-being of UK’s military personnel.
With the election campaign in full swing, Labour knew it had to address the issue of national security at some point. But by focusing on the soft option of housing and welfare issues, Corbyn is hoping to steer clear of much more problematic questions, such as how he would handle Britain’s relations with key allies such as the US, Nato, future intelligence-sharing arrangements and the nuclear deterrent.
Even on Labour’s bountiful military welfare promises, the Corbynistas have not been forthcoming about how they will pay for them. At a time when the military is desperately short of funds, there would need to be a significant increase in the defence budget from its current level of around 2 per cent of GDP if Labour’s commitments were to be met without diverting money away from vital equipment projects, such as building new warships and fighter aircraft.
The far more important questions, though, concern not just the impact a Corbyn government would have on the overall structure of our defence and intelligence services. They have to do with whether the key pillars of Britain’s national security infrastructure can be entrusted to Corbyn and his hard-Left acolytes.
It is not just Corbyn who has spent his career associating with those who wish us harm (like the IRA at the height of its campaign to kill and maim British troops and the ayatollahs in Tehran). Many of his close advisers have a similar world view
It is not just Corbyn who has spent his career associating with those who wish us harm (like the IRA at the height of its campaign to kill and maim British troops and the ayatollahs in Tehran). Many of his close advisers have a similar world view. For example, Andrew Murray, the former communist and ex-head of the Stop the War Coalition, has expressed his support for North Korea and argued that Stalin was preferable to the West.
Given Corbyn’s own preference for siding with the likes of Iran, Russia and the Al Assad regime, one of the first issues that would need to be resolved in the disastrous event of the Labour leader becoming prime minister is what level of access his aides would be allowed to the intelligence and security services.
Even though Britain’s primary intelligence-gathering services — MI6, MI5, and GCHQ — have a more integrated relationship with the Whitehall machine than they did a decade or so ago, they still jealously protect the highly sensitive information they are able to acquire. Indeed, it is entirely feasible that some of this valuable intelligence may well relate to the anti-British antics of Corbyn and his immediate inner circle.
The effectiveness, moreover, of UK’s intelligence-gathering agencies depends to a significant extent on our membership of the elite Five Eyes spy network, where vital material is shared between Britain and other member states — the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
It is highly questionable whether Britain’s intelligence-sharing allies would want to continue with the relationship under a Corbyn administration.
When concerns of this nature arise in intelligence circles, the response is not to cut relations altogether. Instead the flow of high-grade intelligence gradually dries up, so that the quality of material being exchanged is little better than that provided in basic police reports. The most likely impact of a Corbyn government, therefore, is that the Five Eyes alliance would be put in cold storage for the duration of his premiership so far as Britain is concerned.
The Nato alliance is another vital pillar of UK’s national security that would be threatened by a Corbyn government. While Labour’s official position is to maintain Britain’s membership of the alliance, Corbyn has repeatedly called for the organisation to be disbanded, claiming its sole aim was “to promote a cold war with the Soviet Union”.
Whether Britain remains a member or not, I doubt there would be much appetite for this country to play its traditional leadership role in the alliance with the viscerally anti-Nato Corbyn resident in Downing Street.
It is even questionable whether Britain could maintain its Nato leadership role if Labour persists with its inchoate thinking on the nuclear deterrent. Labour says it wants to renew Trident, and Emily Thornberry has helpfully suggested that the party would embrace a “collective approach” on using the deterrent, which is her way of dealing with Corbyn’s insistence that he would in no circumstances press the nuclear button. But let us not forget that Labour’s policy would be fatally undermined if it agrees to ditch the nuclear deterrent altogether, which is one of the SNP’s key conditions for forming a future coalition.
Corbyn might be making some encouraging noises about his concern for the well-being of UK Armed Forces, but make no mistake. A Corbyn government would have disastrous consequences for Britain’s ability to defend itself.
— The Telegraph Group Ltd, London 2019
Con Coughlin is a noted political columnist