Over the past few months and in particular in the last few days, I have been inundated with messages regarding British intervention in Syria against ISIL/Daesh. These messages have been from both sides of the argument, but it is certainly not a black and white issue.
It is a decision that I have thought long and hard about and I’ve listened to all sides of the argument and also the information that I have received. Rest assured this is not a decision that I have taken lightly and I appreciate that many people do have concerns about Britain’s involvement, but I have decided to vote for an extension of action from Iraq to Syria against ISIL/Daesh, with UN support and with our allies. I will try to set out some of my reasoning for this decision and, hopefully, you will be able to understand how I came to my decision.
The United Kingdom has a proud history of standing up to the type of fascism and atrocities that ISIL/Daesh now propagate.
Specifically, we know about their beheadings, crucifixions, throwing gay men off buildings and the mass raping’s. We know they killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc and most recently the 130 victims in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we and others face from this barbaric terrorist group. In my judgement, there is a compelling case for extending airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh to Syria because of this threat. This year alone, 7 terrorist plots against the UK have been foiled, so there is no doubt that we are already a target for ISIL/Daesh.
Just over a year ago I, along with an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons, voted in favour of supporting airstrikes against this group in Iraq because of the threat they posed. These tactics are working; a third of their territory has been retaken with no civilian casualties.
We now also have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution (2249) passed on 20th November 2015, which very specifically calls on member states:
“to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter…. to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL …. and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.”
It is absolutely clear that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – the right of self-defence – to defend the UK and our allies.
It is also argued that because there is a civil war in Syria and there is currently no coherent body of ground troops in the country to defeat ISIL/Daesh therefore we should not act. It is certainly the case that the opposition forces that are there are currently engaged in fighting President Assad and that every diplomatic effort should be made to end the Syrian civil war. A political settlement and the formation of a new government that represents all the Syrian people will be a significant step forward in ending the threat from ISIL/Daesh in the longer term. However, to suggest that airstrikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war comes to an end is to underestimate the urgency of the terrorist threat ISIL/Daesh poses to us and others now and to misunderstand the nature and objectives of the extension to airstrikes being proposed.
There is strong support from within the region, including Iraq, for action against ISIL/Daesh. We are part of a coalition of over 60 nations and we must continue to work with other countries to cut off the flow of finance, fighters and weapons to ISIL/Daesh in Syria and Iraq. France has asked for our help and solidarity, and I think we have an obligation to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with them and others in opposition to their ideology and brutality.
Without a doubt there are really important questions for our national security. Given that we know what ISIL/Daesh are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our own self defence against those who are planning these attacks? Had ISIL/Daesh killed 130 people in London and we asked France for support – and they refused – what would we think? Can we really pass responsibility for defending our national security to other countries?
If we do not act, what message does it send out about our attitude to the UN and about solidarity with all those other countries that have suffered, including Iraq and our ally France? And as we are already undertaking airstrikes in Iraq – where ISIL/Daesh’s hold has been reduced – and are already doing everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria (including intelligence, surveillance and refuelling using RAF drones and planes) should we not play our full part?
Some also say that instead of airstrikes, the UK should be pursuing other non-military activities to take on ISIL/Daesh. This is a false choice. No-one has argued that the political process would be derailed if Britain joined our allies in acting against Isil in Syria as well as Iraq. I am therefore satisfied that military action could effectively run in parallel to our diplomatic efforts. In accordance with the UN Resolution we should be taking all necessary measures. The Government’s motion makes clear a commitment to seek to cut off ISIL/Daesh’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons.
There are legitimate arguments not to take this form of action, but the threat is now and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstance in which to deploy military forces.
The first responsibility of government and of the opposition is to defend the national interest and to defend its people. ISIL/Daesh are unlike any threat we have faced before but their radical ideology and deplorable actions must be stopped and therefore, on balance, I believe the right thing to do is to support the extension of airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh to Syria.