Labour MPs drop backing for statement criticising Nato after Starmer warning

Eleven Stop the War supporters were told they risked losing the whip unless they removed names from document

A group of 11 Labour MPs from the left of the party have removed their names from a statement about the invasion of Ukraine, which heavily criticises Nato after being warned they risked losing the party whip.

In a rapid victory for Keir Starmer over MPs still linked to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour chief whip wrote to the 11 backbenchers asking them to remove their signatures from a statement drawn up by the Stop the War group.

It is understood that Alan Campbell told the group, including Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Richard Burgon, that they risked losing the Labour whip if they did not remove their names.

A party spokesperson later said all the MPs had agreed to do so.

The Stop the War statement, which accuses the UK government of “sabre-rattling” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, also criticises it for saying Ukraine has a right to join Nato if it wishes.

It says the alliance “should call a halt to its eastward expansion and commit to a new security deal for Europe which meets the needs of all states and peoples,” adding: “We refute the idea that Nato is a defensive alliance, and believe its record in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Libya over the last generation, not to mention the US-British attack on Iraq, clearly proves otherwise.”

While Corbyn is a long-term Nato sceptic, Starmer has stressed his support for the organisation. Writing in the Guardian earlier this month, the Labour leader said the party’s commitment to Nato “is unshakable”.

He was also heavily critical of Stop the War, which first emerged before the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US and UK forces, and which Corbyn chaired before becoming Labour leader.

The group did not represent “benign voices for peace”, Starmer said, adding: “At best they are naive, at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies. There is nothing progressive in showing solidarity with the aggressor when our allies need our solidarity and – crucially – our practical assistance now more than ever.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “The small number of Labour MPs that signed the Stop The War statement have all now withdrawn their names. This shows Labour is under new management. With Keir Starmer’s leadership there will never be any confusion about whose side Labour is on – Britain, Nato, freedom and democracy – and every Labour MP now understands that.”

The other MPs who signed the Stop the War statement were Tahir Ali, Apsana Begum, Ian Lavery, Ian Mearns, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Zarah Sultana, Mick Whitley and Beth Winter.

Other signatories included Corbyn, who is sitting as an independent after losing the Labour whip for refusing to rescind comments he made in the aftermath of the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints.

It was also signed by Claudia Webbe, the Leicester East MP who was elected for Labour but sits as an independent after being found guilty of a campaign of harassment, including threatening an acid attack, against a woman.

Andrew Scattergood, co-chairman of left-wing campaign group Momentum, said: “These MPs’ steadfast commitment to the Ukrainian people and against Russia’s invasion is beyond question. Indeed, many of them have led the criticism of Putin’s act of aggression today, forcefully and without reservation.

“It beggars belief that the Labour leadership instead 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.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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