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Jeremy Corbyn's Nato stance is a first for a Labour leader

Corbyn's refusal to support collective defence puts him at odds with all of his predecessors. 

It was under the Attlee government in 1949 that the UK co-founded Nato and became one of its senior members. Every Labour leader since has supported the military alliance. But in last night's hustings, Jeremy Corbyn refused to commit to upholding Article 5: the principle of collective defence ("an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies"). 

When asked how the UK would respond if a fellow Nato member state was invaded by Russia, Corbyn replied: "I would want to avoid us getting involved militarily by building up the diplomatic relationships and also trying to not isolate any country in Europe, to bring them up." Pressed on the subject, he added: "I don’t wish to go to war. What I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it. That can be done."

Corbyn's stance is not especially surprising. During last year's leadership election, he suggested that Nato should have been disbanded ("It's a Cold War organisation, it should have been wound up in 1990 along with the Warsaw Pact"), though he later retreated and stated that there wasn't "an appetite as a whole for people to leave". But his stance on Article 5, which echoes that of Donald Trump, has resurrected the divide.

Owen Smith, his rival candidate, replied: "Were there an invasion of a Nato state by Russia, I am clear that we would need to come to the aid of that state militarily. I believe in us supporting one another, I believe in us working against countries. And the nature of that accord, that treaty, is to do that." He added: "We shouldn't be anything other than robust in facing up to Putin, especially if there were military action against a Nato country." Wes Streeting MP has described Corbyn's stance as "a gross betrayal of Labour's internationalist values". 

As I noted earlier, no other party leader has ever adopted this position. Though it is often claimed that Labour's 1983 manifesto pledged Nato withdrawal, it actually stated: "Labour believes in collective security. The next Labour government will maintain its support for Nato". It is for reasons such as these that 172 Labour MPs voted no confidence in their leader last month and 65 resigned from his frontbench. Corbyn will now find it even harder to persuade any to return in the likely event of his re-election.  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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