Jeremy Corbyn “has never spoken about withdrawing from NATO”.
There was a spat in parliament this week about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on NATO.
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was answering a question on Britain’s response to the incursion into northern Syria by Turkey – a fellow member of the transatlantic military alliance.
Mr Raab told the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, that the situation showed “how we need NATO now more than ever”, adding: “That’s one of the reasons it was so irresponsible that the leader of the Labour Party has called for us to come out of NATO.”
Ms Thornberry shouted: “No he hasn’t. Take that back… That’s absolutely not Labour’s policy and it’s completely misleading.”
Later she made a point of order, seeking to “force the Foreign Secretary to withdraw his thoroughly misleading comments about the Leader of the Opposition’s commitment to NATO”.
She added: “He has never spoken about withdrawing from NATO. Our support for the NATO alliance is absolute and we are committed to spending 2 per cent.”
Mr Raab did not withdraw his comments. Should he?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded in 1949 by the World War Two allies Britain, France, the United States and nine other countries at a time of deep mutual suspicion between western powers and the Soviet Union.
Clement Attlee’s Labour government played a central role in setting up the alliance.
Article 5 of the treaty that founded NATO commits all member states to a policy of “collective defence”: an armed attack against one member is considered an attack against them all.
The military alliance continued to operate and expand its membership after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It now has 29 member states.
Members are supposed to allocate 2 per cent of GDP to military spending, but currently only seven countries – including Britain and the US – actually do.
What has Jeremy Corbyn said about NATO?
In the long years Mr Corbyn spent as a left-winger on Labour’s back benches, he made no secret of his critical views on NATO.
In 2011, Mr Corbyn told a Labour meeting: “We in the radical end, the left, of the unions and the Labour Party, have got to be realistic that NATO is a major problem and a major difficulty, and we have to campaign against NATO’s power, its influence and its global reach, because it is a danger to world peace and a danger to world security.”
In a 2012 column for the Morning Star entitled “High Time for an End to NATO”, he wrote that the collapse of the Soviet Union “was the obvious time for NATO to have been disbanded”.
Speaking at a rally ahead of an “anti-NATO summit” in Cardiff in 2014, Mr Corbyn said NATO had been founded “in order to promote a cold war with the Soviet Union”.
He added: “Come the end of the Cold War, in 1990, that should have been the time for NATO to shut up shop, give up, go home and go away…”
Instead, he said, the alliance began an “eastward expansion”, saying: “The NATO leadership were very keen to appease their friends in the arms industry and expand their ideas and expand their operation.”
He added: “NATO is an engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies and the main nations of this world. Make no illusions about that.”
In a hustings event for Labour leadership candidates in 2015, Mr Corbyn was quoted as saying: “I would argue for NATO to restrict its role. I don’t think there’s an appetite as a whole for people to leave NATO. I want to see NATO under much more democratic control.”
He added: “It’s a Cold War organisation. It should have been wound up in 1990.”
In another leadership debate in 2016, Mr Corbyn was repeatedly asked whether as Britain’s Prime Minister he would go to the aid of a fellow member state if it was attacked by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, under article 5 of the NATO treaty. (here – 44 minutes in)
He said: “I would want to avoid us getting involved militarily by building up the diplomatic relationships and also trying to not isolate any country in Europe – to bring them up. I don’t wish to go to war.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on NATO before he became Labour leader is often paraphrased as “wanting to pull out” of the alliance, but we can’t find evidence of him using this form of words.
It may be a pedantic point, but Mr Corbyn generally talked about wishing that NATO would restrict its role in world affairs or agree to dissolve itself, rather than actively calling for Britain to pull out.
What is Labour’s policy?
Official Labour party policy is to maintain Britain’s commitment to the NATO alliance and to continue to spend at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
Jeremy Corbyn has publicly supported this position for some time. In a major foreign policy speech in 2017, he said: “It is vital that as Britain leaves the European Union, we maintain a close relationship with our European partners alongside NATO, to keep spending at 2 per cent.”
Shortly after this speech, Ms Thornberry said Mr Corbyn had “been on a journey” since railing against NATO at rallies, adding: “It is quite clear that the predominance of opinion within the Labour party is we are committed to NATO.”
Jeremy Corbyn is well known to have been a long-time critic of NATO. Before being elected leader of the Labour party in 2015, he publicly called for the alliance to be wound up on a number of occasions.
Mr Corbyn was the party’s leader in 2016 when he refused to confirm whether a government led by him would go to war with Russia in defence of a NATO ally.
But since becoming Labour leader, he does not appear to have called for the UK to leave NATO – or for the alliance to be disbanded.
It remains Labour party policy for Britain to continue as a member of NATO and carry on spending 2 per cent of national income on defence.