Jeremy Corbyn’s controversial comments questioning the use of shoot to kill in terrorist attacks has led to a whole new round of criticisms — not least from his own MPs. But one of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet, Hilary Benn, spoke on the Today programme this morning to clarify that the Labour party’s policy has not changed:
‘Well I’m very clear that where there is an immediate threat to life — and the circumstances that those French forces faced when they went into the Bataclan concert hall on Friday night and there were the attackers there killing those attending the concert one by one — then long-established procedures say that it is perfectly reasonable in those circumstances to prevent further loss of life to use lethal force.
‘These are split second decision and the police and in certain circumstances the armed forces have to take but you have to protect people and our policy remains the same.’
The shadow foreign secretary did a good job of putting as much distance between himself and Corbyn as possible on shoot to kill. ‘I can’t speak for Jeremy for the particular circumstances he may have been thinking about,’ Benn said. He also argued there is significant public support for his position:
‘I think in those in circumstances, everybody would agree it is right and reasonable, in those very difficult circumstances where there is an immediate threat to life — you are trying to stop more people being killed — that it is right within our procedures to use lethal force in order to protect those who were cowering on the floor of that concert hall and I think that would be widely supported.’
When Benn was asked if Corbyn was wrong to have made those comments, he again distanced himself from the leader:
‘I can’t answer for Jeremy — all I can say is what is the position of the party, the long-standing position in the United Kingdom. There are procedures: it’s got to be reasonable, it’s got to be proportionate but you’ve got to protect human life.’
You do have to wonder what the point of the shadow cabinet is, when the shadow foreign secretary ‘can’t answer’ for the leader’s position. On this matter, he appeared to be speaking only on behalf of Hilary Benn.
Either Corbyn will be pressured into rolling back from his remarks questioning the policy — or he will hold his ground and acknowledge there is a significant difference of opinion at the top of the Labour party. Ordinary voters will be puzzled both at Corbyn’s remarks and the difference in opinion, but Benn appears to be doing his bit to argue that Labour can still be trusted on in a time of crisis.