Starmer weakens pledges on military action votes and Saudi arms sales

The Labour leader insisted there is ‘no inconsistency’ with his past commitments and his position on the Yemen air strikes.

Sam Blewett
Sunday 14 January 2024 16:06 GMT
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has again weakened his pledges (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has again weakened his pledges (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA) (PA Media)

Sir Keir Starmer has watered down promises to introduce a law giving MPs a vote before military intervention and to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

The Labour leader insisted on Sunday that there is “no inconsistency” between his previous promise to give the Commons a say before authorising action and his support for strikes against Houthis.

But his comments marked another change to his past pledges which will further raise concerns on the left and leave him open to Conservative accusations of “flip-flopping”.

When running to succeed Jeremy Corbyn in 2020, Sir Keir promised a Prevention of Military Intervention Act under commitments to prevent “more illegal wars”.

He said at the time that he would “pass legislation” to say “military action” could only be taken if a lawful case was made, there was a viable objective, and consent from Commons had been given.

But his swift backing of the RAF strikes in Yemen in a bombing raid with the US that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak authorised without consulting Parliament raised questions about the pledge.

Sir Keir told BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “There’s no inconsistency here.

“There is obviously a huge distinction between an operation, the like of which we have seen in the last few days, and military action, a sustained campaign, military action usually involving troops on the ground.”

He argued that his proposed change to give the Commons a say only relates to sending in ground forces, adding that he stands by that “in principle, absolutely”.

The Labour leader insisted he still wants to bring in the change but now hinted the alteration may not need to be in law.

“I want to codify that – it could be by a law, it could be by some other means,” he said.

But he added: “I’m not ruling out law.”

In 2020, Sir Keir said the UK “should stop the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia” over concerns about their use in the Yemen civil war.

On Sunday, he said he is still committed to reviewing all arms sales, but would not be definitive when it came to the Saudis.

He told the BBC: “We will review the situation and the review will give us the answers to those questions.”

Labour has faced questions over the key pledge to invest £28 billion in green projects after saying it could be scaled back because of the financial picture.

Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, has urged Sir Keir to “stick to your guns” on the policy to invest in the future.

Sir Keir said he stands by the policy, but added numerous caveats.

He told the BBC: “Of course we need investment and I’m very pleased to make the case for investment in the future. That’s why we will invest £28 billion in total by the second half of the Parliament, subject of course to what the Government has already assigned to put in on green prosperity, and of course within our fiscal rules.”

Pressed if the policy will be in the manifesto, he said: “In the way I’ve just described, then yes, of course.”

The Conservatives accused Sir Keir not being able to say “what he’d do differently” as he “just snipes from the sidelines”.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott said: “This morning, Starmer confirmed he is ‘of course’ committed to putting his £28 billion-a-year spending spree in the Labour manifesto, even though he doesn’t have a plan to pay for it. And that means one thing – thousands of pounds in higher taxes for hardworking people.”

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