Syria: Vote on Air Strikes

I would like to thank all the constituents who have taken the time to contact me so far to express their views on the Government’s proposals for air strikes on Syria by UK forces. The decision about whether or not to deploy UK forces is one of the most difficult an MP can be asked to take and I have thought long and hard about it as well as canvassing extensive opinion from constituents.

It is clear that Daesh (also known as ISIL) poses a threat both regionally in its main area of military operations and internationally through terrorism.   It is clear that we must act to end the threat from Daesh to the region and internationally and that it is a vital national interest to defeat Daesh. The tragic events in Paris and elsewhere around the world have emphasised just how important this is to us all.

Labour has consistently called on the government to strain every sinew to secure international agreement on a plan to end the Syrian civil war – which has created the chaos, fear and violence in which Daesh has thrived and has led to a large number of refugees seeking shelter in Europe – and to develop a plan to end the threat from Daesh. We have also called on the Government to take more refugees from Syria, and communities up and down the country are preparing to welcome them after the horrors that they have fled from.

I have been extremely concerned in recent weeks about the Government’s narrow focus on possible UK involvement in air strikes in previous months and have called for a more comprehensive plan to end the civil war in Syria and to defeat Daesh.

It is clear that aerial bombing by itself cannot defeat Daesh in Syria. It is different in Iraq where there is an integrated ground/air campaign involving a number of countries – this integrated approach is how Kurdish peshmerga forces retook Sinjar recently with US air support.  No compelling evidence has been put forward that there are 70,000 ‘moderate’ ground forces ready to work with us as the Prime Minister has claimed. Bombing without ground forces will be counterproductive and will not help to destroy ISIS or to seek a diplomatic solution to the civil war.

In my view, David Cameron has not made a persuasive case for bombing in Syria.  Just yesterday, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee rejected David Cameron’s case for extending airstrikes into Syria. They did so with cross-party support. The Committee was very clear: “The Prime Minister has not adequately addressed concerns contained in the initial report of the Committee”.

I am extremely concerned that the military aim of destroying Daesh simply is not part of a coherent and coordinated diplomatic strategy.  Despite limited progress in Vienna, we have no clear idea of what a political solution to the conflict in Syria might look like and how to achieve it.

Furthermore, bombing in Syria will not only kill innocent civilians; it will displace many more refugees. Daesh has already recruited thousands of vulnerable refugees and will recruit many more as a result of bombing.  I have a real concern that as air strikes will inevitably result in innocent civilian casualties there is a risk that military action will further alienate and disaffect people, at home and abroad, enabling the conditions for radicalisation to thrive.

In addition to my constituents, the views of ordinary Syrian people themselves are also important. I have been canvassing the views of Syrian refugee families in Oldham and those that i have spoken to are against military action. A similar view was reported by people from Raqqa, who had fled their home town as Daesh descended on them and who have sought refuge in Turkey.

Too little has been done to tackle sources of funding and arms for Daesh. Why is it that only oil convoys are being targeted by the current coalition forces? Why haven’t the wells themselves been decommissioned? More political and diplomatic pressure must be used to bring about a ceasefire in Syria so that Syrians themselves can tackle Daesh on the ground. The current progress on this is woeful.

I am not an absolute pacifist. There are times I believe where arms have to be borne. But this is not one of them. The arguments for military action are weak, increase longer-term risks and are in the absence of a coherent, comprehensive political and diplomatic strategy. Therefore I will be voting against UK military action in Syria in Parliament tonight.

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