Labour furious over timing of Jeremy Corbyn Syria briefing

Big Ben

Labour has reacted with fury after Jeremy Corbyn was invited to a government security briefing on airstrikes in Syria with just 12 hours’ notice and at a time that clashes with the autumn statement.

Senior Labour aides accused No 10 of playing “outrageous political games” after Cabinet Office officials offered Corbyn and his team a briefing at a time he was clearly unable to attend.

David Cameron has said he plans to stage a quick Commons vote on extending airstrikes in Syria next week. He will make an oral statement to MPs this Thursday and then ask them to consider his proposals over the weekend before going to a full debate and vote.

It would be convention for the leader of the opposition to receive a fuller security briefing before then, so that he and his shadow cabinet can come to a collective decision about whether to back airstrikes and whether MPs will be given a free vote.

The government had already given a security briefing on Tuesday to the DUP, which has eight MPs, about the case for UK airstrikes against Isis to be extended to Syria.

After Labour said it had not received an invitation to such a briefing, it is understood the Cabinet Office sent an email at 8.11pm on Tuesday night to Corbyn’s secretary inviting his team to Whitehall for a discussion about military action between 11.30am and 1pm the next day.

At that time, Corbyn and his entire shadow cabinet were to be at prime minister’s questions, followed by the autumn statement.

On Tuesday night, the Cabinet Office insisted Corbyn had been offered a briefing, but Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, was unaware of the late invitation, so it was reported as a split between Benn and Corbyn.

A senior Labour aide claimed this was a deliberate attempt by No 10 to manufacture a division between the two men.

There is a collective Labour agreement to push for a political settlement in Syria but to remain open to the possibility of military action if David Cameron makes a convincing case. However, Corbyn has made it clear that he is not in favour of airstrikes, while Benn has sounded more open to the idea.

Labour was also frustrated that briefing on offer was a session with Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the prime minister’s national security adviser, rather than with Cameron himself.

When Cameron was making the case for airstrikes in Syria in 2013, he held a personal meeting with former Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Asked about the invitation, Cameron’s official spokesman would only say that the prime minister had been clear in public that all privy counsellors were entitled to security briefings if they asked for them.

“We have offered briefings to everyone who wants to have a briefing, any privy counsellors who ask for one. It is effectively an open invite,” he said.

“The PM has been clear at every point he has talked about it that he is happy for the government to provide briefings.”

He said he would not “get into questions about process and who invited who when”.

In prime minister’s questions, Corbyn did not mention the possibility of airstrikes in Syria.

But asked about the issue by the SNP, Cameron said: “We cannot afford to wait for a political settlement in Syria before we act.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 25th November 2015 13.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010