Jeremy Corbyn directly addressed troops deployed on the streets in the wake of the Manchester terror attack in his first speech after the resumption of election campaigning.
The Labour leader, while promising a change in home and foreign policy to tackle ‘the causes of terrorism’, promised military personnel they would only be deployed when there was ‘a clear need’.
“I would like to take a moment to speak to our soldiers on the streets of Britain,” he told journalists and activisits in central London, after beginning the speech with a minute’s silence in recognition of the Manchester victims.
“You are doing your duty as you have done so many times before.
“I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.
“That is my commitment to our armed services.”
Corbyn said Britain should be ‘brave enough to admit the war on terror is not working’ and said tackling its causes should include prison reform.
He added: “The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.
“Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform.”
He promised under a Labour government there would be more police on the streets, that foreign policy would be focused on ‘reducing rather than increasing’ the threat to national security and that cuts to emergency services would end.
He also stressed the suicide bomber who left 22 people dead on Monday evening ‘is no more representative of Muslims than the murderer of Jo Cox spoke for anyone else’.
The Labour leader refused to take questions after his speech, despite stressing the importance of a return to democracy and election campaigning.
“We cannot carry on as though nothing happened in Manchester this week,” he said.
“So, let the quality of our debate, over the next fortnight, be worthy of the country we are proud to defend. Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror.
“Together, we will be stronger. Together we can build a Britain worthy of those who died and those who have inspired us all in Manchester this week.”
The timing and tone of Corbyn’s speech was roundly criticised by his political opponents.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron accused him of ‘putting politics before people at a time of tragedy’ and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said he had a ‘long and shameful history’ of indulging supporters of both Islamist and Republican terrorism.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon said: “Jeremy Corbyn could be Prime Minister of our country in less than two weeks’ time yet he has said only days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities this country has ever known that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.
“There can be no ‘buts’ when it comes to condemning the unspeakable evil carried out by these extremists. There are no justifications, and there is never an excuse for terrorism. Let me spell something out for Mr Corbyn: There are no excuses for what was done in Manchester.
“This isn’t some slip of the tongue. Jeremy Corbyn is a very consistent man, he has a very long track-record of siding with people who want to damage and attack Britain. He and his team come from an extreme and ideological world that is too quick to make excuses for the actions of our enemies and too willing to oppose the measures and people that keep us safe.
“The choice has just become even starker: it’s between Theresa May, acting to protect our national interest and keep our country safe, and Jeremy Corbyn, who is simply not up to the job.”
But a poll carried out by YouGov immediately after Corbyn’s speech revealed 53% of respondents believe wars that the UK has supported or fought are in part responsible for terror attacks against the country, while just 24% think they are not.