The leader of one of Britain’s biggest trade unions has warned Jeremy Corbyn he may be unable to take on the role of prime minister after the new Labour leader said he could never launch a nuclear strike.
Sir Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB, said there was already a “lot of debate” around Mr Corbyn’s leadership and whether he could take the party into the 2020 general election.
Mr Corbyn – a long standing campaigner for nuclear disarmament – infuriated senior shadow cabinet colleagues after he said in a BBC radio interview that he would not be prepared to authorise the use of the UK’s Trident deterrent if he was prime minister.
He was accused of pre-empting a review by shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle of Labour’s current policy – which many Labour MPs and shadow ministers still support – of retaining the deterrent.
Mr Corbyn insisted that even if the party membership voted to retain the current position, he would carry on as leader.
“If I can persuade the whole of the Labour Party to come round to my point of view, I would be very, very happy indeed. I will do my best. If I can’t, we’ll live with it somehow,” he told ITV News.
However, Sir Paul, whose union did not endorse any of the candidates in the leadership race, suggested that Mr Corbyn may be unable to take up the post of prime minister if Labour remained committed to multilateral disarmament.
“That may well be right,” he told Channel 4 News. “At the end of the day, if you are in that role and the party is multilateral and that is the position you are elected to the country, then maybe somebody else should be given the (nuclear) button.”
He added: “Nobody wants their finger on the button. But if we get to that stage, the first and most important priority for this country is the defence of the realm.
“You cannot go into any argument with anybody anywhere on the basis that the other guy on the other side of the table knows you ain’t going to do nothing. Straightforward.”
See Ben Lowry comment, page 19