Leaders: Nothing can justify Smith's suggestion of IS talks

Corbyn's Labour leadership rival has scored a spectacular own-goal '“ terror group is not interested in talking, simply in destroying

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Labour leadership contender Owen Smith. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The man seeking to depose Jeremy Corbyn is likely to regret making his suggestion that the UK should negotiate with the Islamic State (IS) terror group.

Owen Smith said history shows most conflicts are resolved by talking.

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He said “all the actors” would have to be involved if there was to a resolution of the current conflict.

But with IS, we have an enemy which bears no relation to anything we have seen in this country’s, or the west’s, history of conflicts.

The grave problem we have with IS is that they have no interest in talking to us, or negotiating a settlement, They simply want to destroy us.

Mr Smith said that everyone hoped that IS would stop being a “murderous terrorist organisation” and try and bring about peace.

However, he acknowledged there was currently no evidence of that.

Precisely. So why is he even suggesting there should be talks at this stage, so soon after the latest atrocities inflicted by IS in France and Germany?

It is true that Mr Smith stressed he did not mean we should try to get IS round the table immediately, and he admitted that IS was clearly not interested in negotiating at present.

But even to mention the possibility is highly inappropriate.

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The Labour leadership contender’s team have stressed that he has learned from his experience of helping to bring about peace in Northern Ireland that, eventually, all parties who believe in delivering peace have to become involved in talks.

The problem here is that IS does not truly believe in delivering peace. They appear to believe the opposite - the destruction of the western world and all it stands for. It’s hardly a negotiating position.

Mr Smith is also clumsy to draw a parallel between the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the global consequences of conflict in the Middle East. Both were and are appalling, but they are two very different conflicts.

The methods which characterise the terror tactics of IS are horrific, with beheadings, crucifixions and mass shootings all designed to inflict maximum damage as well as shock. It believes the rest of the world is populated by unbelievers who are bent on stamping out Islam, and so destruction of its opponents is justified and the only course of action to be taken.

Any suggestion of attempting to reason with such an organisation is only going to cause offence in the current climate. Our aim should be to defeat IS, not accommodate them.

Of course, Mr Smith has to show he is different from the Labour leader, but making comments like these isn’t going to help him win converts and take Mr Corbyn’s job.

As for Mr Corbyn, he has made his position on the issue crystal clear: “They are not going to be round the table. No.”

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There is much to find fault with Mr Corbyn and his leadership skills, but on this issue he is on solid ground.

Sturgeon must tread carefully

As uncertainty deepens about the timescale and impact of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon is saying the right things to EU nationals who have made their home in Scotland – but she must be careful about raising expectations.

The First Minister does not have any power over the negotiations regarding the future of EU citizens already living in the UK.

In addition, while Ms Sturgeon demands Theresa May does the right thing, the Prime Minister must also have regard for the fate of UK citizens living elsewhere, who also need help.

The Prime Minister has to achieve the best possible position for the whole of the UK, and to do that, a unilateral stance may not be the best way to proceed.

Ms Sturgeon is right to fight for those who have suddenly had doubt placed over their futures, and she is right to call on Mrs May to look after their interests.

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We all hope that people who have made their home here will be allowed to stay, and the indications so far are that this can and will be achieved.

These are families whose first allegiance is to Scotland, and with it a heart-felt desire to remain part of this country. They are now living with the possibility of having to uproot and move to another country, against their will.

But the First Minister will know better than anyone that it will require careful politics to achieve the best possible outcome for all who are affected by this extremely difficult situation. That does not mean that EU nationals living in Scotland are bargaining chips, but rather part of an overall settlement that represents all interests.