Sir Keir Starmer has condemned an anti-war group with links to Jeremy Corbyn, further distancing himself from the former Labour leader as he declared his party’s “unshakeable” support for Nato.
The Stop the War Coalition, which was initially launched to oppose US military action in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, says it stands against what it describes as Britain’s “disastrous addiction to war”.
But it has repeatedly come under fire for alleged anti-Western sentiments.
Mr Corbyn, now an independent MP, is a former chairman of the coalition, and later spoke at a rally staged by the group on Thursday night, titled No War in Ukraine: Stop Nato Expansion.
Mr Corbyn branded the current Labour leader’s criticism “very, very unfair”.
In a stinging rebuke of its work, Sir Keir claimed the organisation is at best “naive”, and at worst a force bolstering those who threaten democracies.
Sir Keir also said Mr Corbyn was “wrong” about Nato, and Labour’s commitment to the alliance is “unshakeable”.
Writing in The Guardian, he said the likes of the Stop the War coalition “are not benign voices for peace”.
“Nobody wants war.
“At first glance, some on the left may be sympathetic to those siren voices who condemn Nato,” he wrote.
“But to condemn Nato is to condemn the guarantee of democracy and security it brings, and which our allies in eastern and central Europe are relying on, as the sabre-rattling from Moscow grows ever louder.”
He added: “That’s why the likes of the Stop the War coalition are not benign voices for peace. 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.
“The kneejerk reflex, ‘Britain, Canada, the United States, France, wrong; their enemies, right’, is unthinking conservatism at its worst.
“To truly stop war, you need to show you are serious about standing up for peace, that you are serious about keeping your promises to your friends, and that you will always stand up to those who threaten.”
It comes after the Labour leader met with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday, as he strives to break with the party’s perceived weak stance on defence under his predecessor.
Following the talks in Brussels, Sir Keir told the BBC that Labour’s commitment to Nato is “unshakeable”.
He said Mr Corbyn’s “very different view” on the alliance was “wrong”.
“He was wrong about Nato,” Sir Keir said.
“He was wrong in relation to the Salisbury poisoning incident where he didn’t respond appropriately.
“I said so at the time, but it’s very important to me this is my first chance as leader of the Labour Party to come here to Nato headquarters to have the meeting with the secretary general and to deliver a very important message for our party and for our country, which is that the Labour Party support for Nato is unshakeable.”
Later on Thursday, at a virtual Stop the War Coalition rally, Mr Corbyn hit out at “very unfair remarks” made about the campaign group.
“There have been some very unfair remarks made today about the Stop the War Coalition,” he said.
“Let’s just set the record straight.”
He went on to say that the Stop the War Coalition is focused on the British Government because it is a British organisation.
Mr Corbyn said: “We are here in Britain and we have criticism to make of the British Government.
“Boris Johnson, who probably for his own political reasons to get out of all the other problems he has got, has headed off to the Ukraine.
“He has made increasingly bellicose statements about the need for and preparedness for armed conflict in the Ukraine – and keeps on thinking he’s in some kind of historic moment.
“He does tend to model himself on Winston Churchill, rather too often for comfort.
“They are simply backing the idea there is only a military solution to this issue. Well there isn’t. There has to be a peaceful solution.”