Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, who famously broke with party leader Jeremy Corbyn in early December by calling for the UK to extend its airstrikes to Syria, continues to challenge Corbyn’s view against military action.
In a pamphlet that was published by the Fabian Society on Monday, Benn writes that Labour needs to “stand up for British interests and our values abroad.”
In this parliament, foreign policy is at the forefront of political debate. If Labour is to become the party of government again, voters need to be clear that we will stand up for British interests and our values abroad.
Benn also encouraged the Labour party to move on from the 2003 invasion of Iraq — something many Labour MPs regret — and not allow “others to fight for us.”
British foreign policy over the last decade has been conducted in the long shadow of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Our foreign policy must learn the lessons of that conflict, but not be shackled by it. It should not be a reason to retreat from the world and our responsibilities in it, or to rely on others to fight for us…There are voices for isolationism in British and European politics. Labour should resist them.
Corbyn’s attitude to foreign policy could be described as “isolationist.” The Labour leader told Sky News in September that he couldn’t think of any circumstances in which he would deploy military forces, according to The Guardian.
Benn’s latest comments once again bring him into direct conflict with his Corbyn and will raise questions over how long Corbyn can tolerate having a shadow Foreign Secretary who contradicts him.
Benn made the closing speech for Labour in the House of Commons debate on whether to extend Royal Air Force airstrikes against ISIS into Syria. His speech opposed Corbyn’s position that military action shouldn’t be taken and was met by applause by MPs on both sides of the House. Benn’s counterpart, Conservative Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, said that Benn’s speech will “go down as one of the truly great speeches heard in this place.”
Corbyn sat silently behind Benn with his arms folded as he made the speech and it appears he is still very angry about it. He told the Sunday Times this week that he was appalled by the way Benn’s speech was received.
I did not agree with it. I was appalled that MPs should clap, shout and cheer when we were deciding to go and bomb somewhere. Parliament is supposed to be serious. It’s not a place for jingoistic cheering.
Corbyn’s shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle has also disagreed with the Labour leader. She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the applause wasn’t ingoistic but was “genuine admiration for the case that had been made by Hilary Benn,” the Independent reports.
Corbyn didn’t deny that he is planning a “revenge reshuffle” of his cabinet hen asked about disloyalty within his party during the Times interview.
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