Defence secretary Michael Fallon has said Theresa May would be willing to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike and denied he was trying to “smear” Jeremy Corbyn as unfit for office.
Corbyn is facing renewed questions over his fitness to be prime minister after a day of confusion over Labour’s defence policy.
The Labour leader came under fire from the Conservatives after he appeared to call into question Labour’s commitment to maintaining Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.
There was further controversy after he suggested he would be reluctant to authorise a drone strike on the leader of the Islamic State terror group and could suspend RAF attacks against the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Fallon said Labour “chaos” over their defence policy was “double the security risk to this country”.
But presenter Nick Robinson asked the defence secretary: “This is a legitimate argument between grown ups, yet you are trying to smear Mr Corbyn as unfit to hold high office.”
Fallon said: “Mr Corbyn wants to be prime minister of this country in six weeks time yesterday we had the staggering performance of someone who wants to be prime minister who wouldn’t necessarily authorize strikes again terrorists, he is against the nuclear deterrent, would stop building the submarines, we have already started building he wouldn’t control our borders and earlier he has even questioned our Nato deployment.”
Asked today if the prime minister would authorise a first strike using nuclear weapons, the defence secretary said she would do “in the most extreme circumstances”.
“You can t rule out the use of nuclear weapons as a first strike,” he added. “You’ve got to leave uncertainty in the mind of anybody who might be thinking of using nuclear weapons against this country.
Corbyn’s problems came during an interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show in which he said he would order an immediate strategic defence review looking at “all aspects” of defence policy if he was prime minister after June 8.
The Labour leader – a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons - went on to say there was a “discussion” going on within the party as to whether the existing commitment to maintain Trident would be in the election manifesto.
With the party’s position threatening to unravel, a spokesman finally issued a statement, declaring: “The decision to renew Trident has been taken and Labour supports that.”
The issue of the deterrent has proved highly divisive for Labour, with Corbyn finally abandoning his attempt to persuade the party to support unilateral nuclear disarmament at last year’s annual conference following opposition from the trade unions.