Jeremy Corbyn warns rebels: I'm not going anywhere over Syria

Jeremy Corbyn, speaking outside Iraq inquiry

Jeremy Corbyn has warned plotters against his leadership that he is “not going anywhere” over his opposition to bombing Syria, as he urged MPs to listen to the Labour membership.

The Labour leader is facing a rebellion among shadow cabinet ministers, with the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, and the deputy leader, Tom Watson, among those in favour of extending airstrikes against Islamic State.

However, Corbyn asserted his authority on Sunday by reminding MPs of his large mandate and making clear that he alone would decide whether to whip them to vote against extending airstrikes on Isis.

“It is the leader who decides. I will make up my mind in due course,” he said.

He has also consulted members about their views on whether David Cameron has made the case for bombing the Isis stronghold of Raqqa and received 70,000 responses through an online form.

Cameron is likely to hold a vote on extending the bombing of Isis to Syria on Wednesday. He has the vast majority of Tory MPs behind him but cabinet ministers including Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, have been telephoning Labour MPs urging them to swing behind the government position.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Corbyn set out his own view that bombing would lead inevitably to civilian casualties and risks making the situation “worse, not better”.

He “seriously questioned” Cameron’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian troops to secure territory vacated by Isis and voiced doubts about their “loyalties”.

Corbyn said he would not describe himself as a pacifist but military action should only be used as an absolute last resort.

Trying to achieve a political settlement in Syria and cutting off Isis funding, oil trading and weapons supply should be the priority, he said.

His clear statement of opposition to airstrikes is likely to be backed up by the membership and he is also seeking the support of Labour’s ruling national executive committee in a bid to persuade MPs to come round to his view.

Corbyn said there would be a decision as a party on opposing airstrikes and he will then decide whether to impose the whip on MPs.

“The Labour membership must have a voice. Labour MPs need to listen to that voice and try to understand where they are coming from,” he said.

Watson, the deputy leader, has been trying to broker a deal with Corbyn to allow a free vote, as it is possible that key shadow cabinet ministers would have to resign if the leader insists they vote against airstrikes. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, is in favour of a free vote across all parties as a matter of conscience.

McDonnell also insisted that people should not see Labour’s discussions about Syria as divisions but a healthy and democratic sign of the new politics that Corbyn has brought to the party.

There have been reports that some MPs are plotting to remove Corbyn if it comes to this, having consulted lawyers on whether they could exclude him from the ballot paper in a new contest.

But Corbyn dismissed this idea, saying he is “not going anywhere and ... enjoying every minute” of his leadership.

In an acknowledgement there may be Labour figures trying to plot a coup against him, he said: “I feel there are some people who haven’t quite got used to the idea the party is in a different place.”

He defended his decision to email Labour MPs to make clear his opposition to airstrikes before the shadow cabinet had come to a collective position and suggested his colleagues had briefed the media about their positions in favour of bombing before he made a public declaration against.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 29th November 2015 10.47 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010