Keir Starmer has said that there is “no room for doubt” on his stance on NATO after 11 Labour MPs pulled their signatures from a Stop the War statement criticising NATO expansionism after being urged to do so by the chief whip.
In an ITV News interview this morning, the Labour leader told viewers that he has been “very clear that the Labour Party’s support for NATO is unshakeable” and said that the military alliance is “part of our history and tradition”.
Starmer said he travelled to Brussels two weeks ago to meet with the general secretary to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, which on Thursday saw a full-scale Russian invasion begin, but also to express Labour’s support for the alliance.
“In the Labour Party, under my leadership, we are supportive of NATO and I’m very, very clear about that and I think all or our MPs and all our members and supporters know exactly where we stand on this,” the Labour leader said.
“We took action in relation to those individuals and they retracted their signatures, pretty well straight away – and therefore I don’t think there’s any room for doubt here on where I stand on NATO and what I expect of Labour Party MPs, our members and our supporters.
“It is extremely important. Russia is invading a European country. We stand with NATO. I’m clear about that in relation to the Labour Party and, you know, that means just as with other issues I’ll take whatever action is necessary.”
11 Labour MPs signed the statement that condemned Vladimir Putin’s regime, said “Russia and Ukraine should reach a diplomatic settlement of the tensions between them” and that NATO should “call a halt to its eastward expansion”.
It criticised the British government for sending arms to Ukraine and for having “talked up the threat of war continually”. Starmer has been strongly supportive of the government supporting Ukraine via military equipment and training.
Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, Beth Winter, Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Apsana Begum, Mick Whitley, Tahir Ali and Ian Mearns had all signed the statement by the organisation once chaired by Jeremy Corbyn.
LabourList understands that, while many of the Labour backbenchers condemned the invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, they pulled their support because it was thought they would have the Labour whip withdrawn if they refused to do so.
The statement, from February 18th, was also signed by Labour Unions chair and ASLEF train drivers’ union general secretary Mick Whelan, plus independent MPs Corbyn and Claudia Webbe, none of whom have removed their names.
Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood said the MPs’ “steadfast commitment to the Ukrainian people and against Russia’s invasion is beyond question” and it “beggars belief” that the leadership “focuses on a week-old statement in an attempt to wage factional warfare against them while a real war wages on against the Ukrainian people”.
Labour restricted access to Young Labour’s Twitter account this morning as the group was accused of being “actively detrimental to the party’s core objectives” following a clash with the leadership over NATO and the Ukraine crisis.
Young Labour had criticised the leader for “celebrating” closer cooperation by the NATO alliance while “attacking Stop The War and other pro-peace activists” following a piece written by Starmer for The Guardian on the Ukraine conflict.
A Labour source told LabourList: “This is a small factional group that have taken over an official channel to spend their entire time tweeting bollocks. Their Twitter has been taken off them until they sort themselves out.” Momentum condemned the “shameful and anti-democratic attack on young members”.
'In @UKLabour, under my leadership, we are supportive of Nato… we took action in relation to those individuals and they retracted their signatures straight away'@Keir_Starmer speaks after 11 Labour MPs removed their names from a Stop the War petition https://t.co/eLmSetm6gL pic.twitter.com/SEDN65Jbxs
— ITV News Politics (@ITVNewsPolitics) February 25, 2022