Jeremy Corbyn today will move to try and neutralise Tory accusations that he is weak on defence by saying he is “not a pacifist” and would be prepared to use military force should be elected prime minister.
Conservative defence secretary Michael Fallon yesterday said Corbyn was “dangerous” as he was “essentially a pacifist”.
And ahead of Corbyn’s speech, the Conservatives said the Labour leader liked to have “tea with terrorists”.
The Tory campaign machine can be expected to ruthlessly target the Corbyn’s historic campaigning against Trident and his opposition to Nato military operations.
Yesterday Labour’s manifesto, which leaked out early, was amended to remove a passage which said prime ministers should be “extremely cautious” about using nuclear weapons.
The manifesto’s language on combating terrorism was also strengthened.
Last week, the Conservatives launched an election poster which accused the Labour leader of both wanting to cut the UK’s military at the same time as raising taxes. “Corbyn: No Bombs for our Army, One big bombshell for your family,” the poster read.
In a speech at Chatham House today, Corbyn will say if he wins the election on June 8 he will “do everything necessary to protect the safety and security of our people and our country”.
"The best defence for Britain is a government actively engaged in seeking peaceful solutions to the world’s problems,” he will say.
“But I am not a pacifist. I accept that military action, under international law and as a genuine last resort, is in some circumstances necessary.”
In her own speech in the north of England today, May will make a play for “proud and patriotic working class” Labour voters.
“Across the country today, traditional Labour supporters are increasingly looking at what Jeremy Corbyn believes in and are appalled,” she will say.
The Tories have announced a Conservative government will meet the Nato commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence and will increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year of the new Parliament. Labour is also committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence.
Corbyn, who opposed May’s decision to support Donald Trump’s military strike on President Assad in retaliation for the Syrian leader’s use of chemical weapons, will say today the prime minister is “pandering to an erratic Trump administration will not deliver stability”.
And he will reject engaging in the “unilateral wars and interventions that have almost become routine in recent times”.
“Waiting to see which way the wind blows in Washington isn’t strong leadership. And pandering to an erratic Trump administration will not deliver stability,” he will say.
“Britain deserves better than simply outsourcing our country’s security and prosperity to the whims of the Trump White House.
“So no more hand-holding with Donald Trump – a Labour government will conduct a robust and independent foreign policy made in London.
“This is the fourth general election in a row to be held while Britain is at war and our armed forces are in action in the Middle East and beyond.
“The ‘war on terror’ which lies behind these interventions has failed. They have not increased our security at home – rather the opposite – and they have caused destabilisation and devastation abroad.
“The ‘bomb first, talk later’ approach to security has failed. To persist with it, as the Conservative Government has made clear it is determined to do, is a recipe for increasing not reducing threats and insecurity.”
In response to the speech, Tory armed forces minister Mike Penning, said Corbyn had “spent a lifetime trying to disarm Britain”
“Now he’s pretending he’s got what it takes to keep us safe. It’s nonsense - we know he wants scrap Trident, abandon our allies and would rather talk to Daesh than strike its barbaric leader,” he said.
“We all want peace, but you can’t take tea with terrorists who order attacks on innocent civilians on our streets. Only Theresa May and the Conservatives will provide the strong and stable leadership needed to defend our values against those who seek to destroy our way of life.”