Benn exposes Labour rift on ‘shoot-to-kill’ terror policy

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.
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LABOUR does support the use of lethal force by the police and armed forces in order to protect human life in the event of a terrorist attack, shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn has insisted.

Mr Benn, the MP for Leeds Central, appeared to distance himself from Jeremy Corbyn after the Labour leader said he was “not happy” with the idea of a “shoot-to-kill policy” in the UK in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

He also refused to say whether he would carry on in the shadow cabinet if Mr Corbyn attended a rally of the Stop the War Coalition after it said the French capital had “reaped the whirlwind” of Western support for “extremist violence” in the Middle East.

His comments followed a stormy meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party at Westminster on Monday night in which Mr Corbyn was reportedly savaged by a series of MPs over his response to the events in Paris.

In a series of interviews prior to the meeting, Mr Corbyn questioned the legality of the drone strike which killed Mohammed Emwazi - known as Jihadi John - told MPs they could not expect a free vote on extending RAF air strikes against Islamic State (IS) into Syria, and warned that a “shoot-to-kill” policy could be “counter-productive”.

Interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Benn insisted it had always been Labour’s position that the police could use lethal force in circumstances like those in Paris where there was an immediate threat to human life.

“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 has got to be reasonable, it has got to be proportionate, but you have got to protect human life,” he said.

“These are split-second decisions that the police and, in certain circumstances, the armed forces have to take. But you have to protect people. Our policy remains the same.”

Mr Benn also defended use of a US drone strike, in a joint operation with the UK, to kill Emwazi in the IS stronghold of Raqqa on Friday after Mr Corbyn said he wanted an explanation for the legal basis for the action.

“There is no doubt that he took part in the killing of a number of hostages, including David Haines and Alan Hemming, he presented a real threat, and therefore it is right in those circumstances to take the action that was taken by the Americans, with British support, because there was no realistic prospect of him being apprehended,” he said.

Mr Benn also twice refused to say whether he would resign if Mr Corbyn went ahead with a planned appearance at the Stop the War rally next month.

“That is a decision for Jeremy,” he said.

He said that Stop the War had been “wholly wrong” to put out a comment on Twitter saying Paris “reaps the whirlwind of Western support for extremist violence in the Middle East”.

“This is not the fault of the French and I am glad that tweet was deleted. It is the fault of the attackers. They represent a threat to all of us and we have to take effective action,” he said.