British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was harshly criticized Friday for implying that Britain had invited the Manchester suicide attack with its involvement in foreign wars.
In his first speech since the terror attack that killed 22 people in Manchester, opposition leader Corbyn said that his party would change Britain’s foreign policy if it takes power after June 8’s general elections by abandoning the “war on terror.”
“Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home,” he said as national election campaigning resumed after a hiatus to honor the victims in Monday’s arena blast.
Corbyn said that if he were elected prime minister, he would only deploy British troops to wars abroad “when there is a clear need, and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.”
The Labour leader said Britain’s involvement in global conflict “in no way reduces the guilt” of terrorists who have targeted the British people, but added that the “war on terror has not worked.”
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Members of the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats lashed out at Corbyn’s comments.
Said Defense Secretary Michael Fallon: “Jeremy Corbyn could be prime minister of our country in less than two weeks’ time, yet he has said only days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities this country has ever known that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called Corbyn’s comments “absolutely monstrous.”
Speaking during a meeting with his counterpart US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Johnson said it was “absolutely extraordinary and inexplicable in this week of all weeks that there should be any attempt to justify or to legitimate the actions of terrorists in this way.”
Corbyn is trying to win back the many Labour supporters who turned away from the party in the aftermath of then prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair’s backing of US president George W. Bush brought more than 1 million protesters into the streets. When the rationale for war failed to pan out because weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, Blair’s popularity faded badly after a string of election victories.
When home-grown terrorists attacked London subway and bus lines in 2005, some blamed Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. Corbyn’s speech reflects the view that Britain’s actions overseas are at least in part responsible for the increase in extremist attacks.
Corbyn has held isolationist views for years. He voted against deploying British troops to Iraq in 2003, to Afghanistan in 2010 and against establishing a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011.
Corbyn also repeatedly voted against anti-terror legislation since becoming a member of Parliament in 1983.
The Labour Party under Corbyn has trailed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives in the polls, but has begun to make gains in the last week. It is unclear how the worst attack in Britain in more than a decade will impact voter sentiment.
Corbyn’s speech marked the party’s return to campaigning after a pause it took in the wake of the Manchester attacks. His event started with a minute’s silence and he did not take questions afterwards.
With less than two weeks remaining to Election Day, Labour is gaining ground against the Conservatives.
According to the Guardian, citing a YouGov poll, the Conservative party is now just five points ahead.