Jeremy Corbyn has said he is not happy with police or military being ordered to “shoot to kill” on British streets, a measure which Downing Street has approved in the event of Paris-style terror attacks in the UK.

The Labour leader made the remarks after it emerged the government ordered special forces to “take swift action to neutralise terrorists, rather than to cordon and negotiate”, because of the evolving tactics of Islamic Stateterrorists.

In an interview with the BBC, Corbyn was asked whether as prime minister he would be happy to order police or military to follow such a “shoot to kill” policy.

He said: “I’m not happy with the shoot-to-kill policy in general – I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive. I think you have to have security that prevents people firing off weapons, where they can. There are various degrees of doing things as we know … but the idea you end up with a war on the streets is not a good thing. Surely you have to work to try and prevent these things happening, that’s got to be the priority.”

The term “shoot to kill” is particularly controversial because state forces in Northern Ireland were accused of having operated such a policy during the Troubles without first trying to arrest suspects.

After the issue was raised by an MP at a meeting of the parliamentary party, a Labour aide clarified that Corbyn was “committed to what the existing law is, that any armed action by the police has to be proportionate to the threat”.

“That is always the test that is put when it comes to any incident when police kill anyone,” the aide added.

When pressed in the BBC interview, Corbyn also questioned the legality of the drone strike in Syria against Isis fighter Mohammed Emwazi.

“Surely if somebody is doing something wrong you act legally against them,” he said. “If we are setting ourselves up as the west, as in accordance with the UN, with international law and of our own laws, then I think we have to act in accordance with them.

“I am awaiting an explanation of where the legal basis was for that incident that went on. Obviously people planning things to attack others is wrong, but there is a process to go on about that. That is why I am looking for a political process.”

When the issue was also subsequently brought up at the party’s weekly parliamentary meeting, Corbyn replied to the MP that he had not seen the legal advice.

The Labour leader had previously suggested that it would have been better if Emwazi had been arrested. This stance was attacked by David Cameron in a speech on Monday night, without mentioning the Labour leader by name.

“Those who say we should have somehow arrested Jihadi John, don’t get the reality of the world we are in. The same is true of Junaid Hussain or Reyaad Khan,” Cameron said. “There is no government we can work with in Syria, let alone that part of Syria. There are no rigorous police investigations or independent courts upholding justice in Raqqa.

“We have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots. And there was nothing to suggest that any of these people would ever leave Syria or stop planning to murder British and American citizens. In that situation, you do not protect people by sitting around and wishing for another world. You have to act in this one. And that means being prepared to use military force where necessary.”

Corbyn, who was one of the most vocal campaigners against the Iraq war, had been scheduled to give a speech over the weekend warning that Britain’s disastrous international interventions have risked national security. The speech was cancelled in light of the Paris attacks but a Labour aide said it would now take place next week.

In the BBC interview, Corbyn said he had been “saying that for a very long time and indeed I said that in 2003 and I said it indeed in 2001 after the World Trade Center bombing. I was involved in the movement, then in 2001 indeed spoke on this issue in the USA as well as here during that period”.

He was also asked about a statement by a Stop the War campaigner, who said at the weekend the Paris attacks were “reaping a whirlwind” of western support for extremist violence – before the statement was deleted and the group made clear it was not official.

Corbyn, a former chair of Stop the War until he became Labour leader, said he “would not use that language”.

He added: “I would use the language that has been put forward by, I think, the thoughtful words of President Obama saying we had to reckon with what happened there. I’m not sure exactly if that was something that was put on a website. It was a statement but in my view, I think what Obama said is interesting.”

A Labour MP also asked about the Stop the War remarks at the parliamentary party meeting, including why Corbyn was attending a Stop the War fundraiser Christmas dinner.

This article was written by Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, for The Guardian on Monday 16th November 2015 21.38 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010