Armed Forces criticism of Jeremy Corbyn's Trident stance compared to former military dictatorship in Burma

Labour leader wins backing from unlikely figures but David Cameron backs intervention of General Sir Nicholas Houghton, who criticised Jeremy Corbyn for saying he would never use Trident

Matt Dathan
Online political reporter
Monday 09 November 2015 16:32
Jeremy Corbyn accused General Sir Nicholas Houghton of 'breaching' the neutrality of the Armed Forces
Jeremy Corbyn accused General Sir Nicholas Houghton of 'breaching' the neutrality of the Armed Forces

Criticism of Jeremy Corbyn's stance on Trident from the head of the Armed Forces was a type of intervention that belonged to military dictatorships rather than the UK, a senior right-wing Tory figure has said as the Labour leader won backing from unlikely figures over his explosive row with the army.

The Labour leader accused General Sir John Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, of breaching the "constitutional principle" of the military's non-involvement in political issues after he criticised Mr Corbyn's opposition to renewing Trident.

Crispin Blunt, a senior Conservative MP who chairs the influential Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sir Nicholas had "strayed into political territory" and accepted that Mr Corbyn "has a point," while Daniel Hannan, a leading member of the Conservative's eurosceptic wing of the party, compared his intervention to former miltary dictators in Burma.

Lord West, a former First Sea Lord who is an outspoken critic of Mr Corbyn on defence policy, also hit out at Sir Nicholas' comments, saying he had "strayed further than he should have done" and warned him to "be careful" with his words in future.

However David Cameron has backed Sir Nicholas' intervention, saying he had made an important point in criticising Mr Corbyn's position on Trident and Downing Street confirmed that he will not be disciplined over his remarks.

The Prime Minister's spokeswoman said: "The chief of the defence staff was making a point about the credibility of the deterrent.

"It's reasonable for him to talk about maintaining the credibility of one of the most important tools in our armoury."

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday Sir Nicholas implied that Mr Corbyn did not understand how a deterrent worked because he had said he would under no circumstances push the nuclear button should he become Prime Minister.

"It would worry me if that thought was translated into power," Sir Nicholas said.

"The reason I say this - and it's not based on a personal thing at all - is purely based upon the credibility of deterrence. The whole thing of deterrence rests upon the credibility of its use.

"When people say they're never going to use the deterrent, I say you use the deterrent every second of every minute of every day - the purpose of the deterrent is you don't have to use it because you effectively deter.

"Most of the politicians I know understand that and I think, dare I say, the responsibility of power is probably quite a sobering thing and you come to a realisation 'I understand how this thing works'."

Asked about the comments, Mr Blunt told Sky News: "As an ex-soldier and a Conservative politician I am rather loath to take the side of a left-wing leader of the Labour Party against the Chief of the Defence Staff, but I rather fear he has a point.

"I think the Chief of the Defence Staff perhaps strayed into political territory."

Mr Corbyn sent a letter to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to demand action be taken "to ensure that the neutrality of the armed forces is upheld".

The Labour leader said it was "a matter of serious concern that the Chief of the Defence Staff has intervened directly in issues of political dispute".

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