The former head of MI6 has said he is “troubled” by Jeremy Corbyn’s “past associations” in comments which sparked a furious reaction from the Labour leader’s ally John McDonnell.
In an interview with Sky News, Sir Richard Dearlove said Corbyn had got close to groups that were not “friends of the British nation” and he was “expressing concerns”.
But shadow chancellor McDonnell immediately hit back, accusing Dearlove of being a “reactionary member of the establishment” who “should spend his retirement in quiet contemplation” over the Iraq war.
Dearlove told Sky presenter Sophy Ridge: “I think someone coming from my background is troubled by Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations, some of which I find surprising and worrying.
“He may have abandoned them now but I don’t think you can entirely as it were dump your past.”
“He has enthusiastically associated himself with groups and interests which I would not say were the friends of the British nation.”
Dearlove also dismissed the idea of a “deep state” working against the Labour Party, saying: “It’s rubbish. I think every government has been loyally served by the British security and intelligence community.”
Corbyn has previously been accused of being close to Sinn Fein and has faced repeated allegations of allowing anti-Semitism to thrive in the Labour Party.
Asked whether security services may withhold information from Corbyn as PM, Dearlove said no, and added: “If he becomes prime minister, he becomes prime minister. That will be the democratic decision of the British people and in that position, certainly not, you have to treat him as OM.
“I am expressing concerns about him and his political past which I think are pretty extensively shared by a lot of people.”
Speaking on the same programme, Ridge On Sunday, McDonnell said: “Well, I’m not surprised, look this is a member, a reactionary member, of the establishment, so I don’t think he’d welcome a Labour government of any sort, to be frank.
“Can I just say to him directly, I think he should spend his retirement in quiet contemplation of the role that he played with regard to the Iraq war where over half a million people at least were killed.
“He was strongly criticised as the head of an organisation whose intelligence took us into that war, so I think he should have a bit of humility about the judgements he makes about individuals and others in the future.”