Labour criticises government for failure to condemn Suleimani attack

Nicola Slawson
Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

The UK government has been criticised for failing to condemn the assassination of Iran’s top general, which has heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Amid a backlash and concerns about reprisals over the killing of Qassem Suleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad, Labour’s John McDonnell promised to put pressure on Boris Johnson concerning the attack, which he said will “set the Middle East and the globe alight yet again”.

The shadow chancellor told a protest in Westminster that it was “not good enough” that the government had not condemned US president Donald Trump for authorising the killing.

“We were here 17 years ago. And there’s one lesson that came from those events, is that violence begets violence,” McDonnell told the protest on Saturday. “It’s not good enough for the UK government just to appeal for a de-escalation, what we expect the UK government to do is to come out in total and outright condemnation of this act of violence.”

McDonnell added: “We will not tolerate us being dragged yet again into this type of aggressive military action which puts us all at risk.”

On Saturday morning, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt called the US’s escalating confrontation with Iran over the assassination of Suleimani an “incredibly dangerous game of chicken”.

Meanwhile, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, called for calm and urged all aggressors to de-escalate. The prime minister, who has been holidaying with his partner, Carrie Symonds, has so far remained silent on the situation.

Johnson, who has been celebrating the new year on the private Caribbean island of Mustique, is expected to return to the UK early on Sunday.

He has been under pressure to return early from his holiday in order to deal with the crisis, as other political leaders criticised Trump’s actions. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has written to him requesting an urgent meeting of the privy council. The hashtag #WhereIsBoris has been trending on Twitter.

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said on Friday that the Foreign Office’s call for restraint was “too little and far too late, in the wake of such a brazen, unlawful and provocative attack”.

McDonnell made his comments at a protest of more than 150 anti-war activists, some with placards, who gathered outside Downing Street in a protest organised by the Stop the War Coalition.

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, who is bidding to be Labour’s deputy leader, told the crowd at Westminster that the UK must not be dragged into any war with Iran. He said he believed Trump had pursued the attack for his own electoral purposes.

“I and others marched against the Iraq war, shamefully our government supported George Bush’s war in Iraq,” Burgon said. “It made life even worse for people in Iraq, it made terrorism flourish and it didn’t help people in the Middle East or around the world. Because Donald Trump, I think, is doing this for electoral purposes. I think it could be as cynical as that. And so, we’ve got to argue against war, argue for peace, argue for conflict resolution, and argue in our ever more dangerous world that what we really need is to avoid the rush to war.”