Defence minister Mike Penning: Jeremy Corbyn is collaborating with Russia
A government minister has accused Jeremy Corbyn of "collaborating" with Russia after his spokesman said British troops stationed in eastern Europe were helping to "escalate tensions" between Moscow and the west.
In an extraordinary attack, Armed Forces minister Mike Penning said the comments proved that Labour would not defend the UK's Nato allies and "cannot be trusted with Britain's national security".
Some 800 British troops are set to join a Nato taskforce in Estonia this spring, while a further 200 will be stationed in Poland. Four RAF Typhoons will also be sent to Romania in the summer.
Asked whether Mr Corbyn supported the Estonia deployment yesterday, the Labour leader's spokesman said: "Jeremy has expressed concerns about that being one of the escalations of tensions that have taken place."
In an interview with BBC Wales today, Mr Corbyn said it was "unfortunate that troops have gone up to the border on both sides".
He added: "I don't want to see any more troops deployed on the borders between Nato and Russia, I want to see a de-escalation, ultimately a de-militarisation and better relationships between both sides of it... there cannot be a return to a Cold War mentality."
But Mr Penning said: "Britain has Nato's second biggest defence budget and plays a leading role in the alliance. It is unprecedented for a leader of the opposition to attack the defensive deployment of British troops in Nato territory.
"These comments suggest that the Labour leader would rather collaborate with Russian aggression than mutually support Britain's Nato allies. As with Trident, everything Labour says and does shows that they cannot be trusted with Britain's national security."
It also emerged today that Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith was left "absolutely livid" by Mr Corbyn's spokesman's comments.
She recently told Forces TV it was “very important” Britain plays a “strong role” in Nato – in particular after it voted to quit the European Union.
The frontbencher said Nato members must be “standing together” after what happened in Ukraine and must not “tolerate any attack on any one of our member states”.
"I think that's why it's so important that we have this partnership work now with the three Baltic states and Poland," she added.
Mr Corbyn said today: "I had a chat with Nia briefly last night and we are having a longer discussion later on today."