UK foreign policy: truth and defamation

By Jill Segger
May 31, 2017

We are all familiar with spin, with the attempt to conceal facts or to massage figures. But an outright lie in the mouth of a Prime Minister speaking at an international gathering, quite rightly shocks many. When its occasion hinges upon a horrifying mass killing, decent people of all political persuasions must speak in defence of truth.

Following her speech at the G7 Summit in Sicily on 26 May, four days after the bombing at the Manchester Arena which took the lives of 22 young people, and two weeks out from election day, Theresa May used these words in answer to a question from the BBC's John Pienaar: “Jeremy Corbyn says terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.” There can be no mincing of words here. This was a lie, and the Prime Minister knew it.

She was referring to the speech which the Labour leader had made earlier the same day. Much of the media appeared to follow May's calumny without exercising critical analysis. It is important to know exactly what Corbyn did say in his sensitive and nuanced address.

Let us begin with a statement of moral clarity: “ [nothing] reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.” But Corbyn did not fall into the trap of being blinded by revulsion. Understanding – as some of his critics appear to have chosen not to do – that contributory factors cannot be presented as either excuses or as sole causes, he pointed to the need for an informed understanding of the conditions which contribute to violent jihad. “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home”, he said.

Balancing and clarifying, he continued, “Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. Over the past fifteen years or so, a sub-culture of often suicidal violence has developed amongst a tiny minority of, mainly young, men, falsely drawing authority from Islamic beliefs and often nurtured in a prison system in urgent need of resources and reform. And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre. But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.” It is very difficult indeed to see how this could justifiably be reduced to the mendacious sound-bite offered by the Prime Minister in defamation of her opponent at a time of profound national distress.

A nation's foreign policy can no more be isolated from effects we find distressing than from those for which a government takes praise and advantage. We have a complicity in the military and political decisions which left Iraq a ruined and hollowed out place where Al-Qaeda and its terrible offspring Daesh could flourish and grow. We must own our part in leaving Libya as an ungoverned space, increasingly controlled by militias, and which has become an incubator of violent Islamism. The UK's continued sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, used in attacks which are killing civilians in Yemen, is not only immoral, it makes a mockery of the very concept of a 'war on terror'

Recognising these consequences is essential to our domestic security if we are not to perpetuate hatred and failure. Bearing false witness against a senior politician who has spoken an inconvenient truth to power is profoundly damaging to the health of our democracy. The vicar's daughter should do so much better than this.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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