Parliament was recalled to debate Syria on Thursday 29 August 2013 and I applied to speak in the debate in the hope that I would be called.
I share the concerns of Oldham East and Saddleworth constituents regarding the proposals the Government put before Parliament, which I believe would have given the green light in principle to UK military action in Syria. I therefore voted against the Government’s motion, which, as you will be aware was defeated by a majority of 13.
Following the vote, the Prime Minister made it clear after a Point of Order from Ed Miliband that he would not be invoking the royal prerogative to authorise any military action in Syria. This week, the Deputy Prime Minister has ruled out a further vote in Parliament on UK military involvement.
Despite applying to speak in the vote I was unfortunately not called by the Speaker during the debate so I was unable to place on the record my revulsion at the images from Syria showing the effects of the alleged chemical attacks in a suburb of Damascus. Over the last two and a half years over 100,000 people have been killed in this bloody civil war, including 7,000 children; with millions more displaced, of which half are children.
The Pugwash International conference at the end of June noted that to date there had been a total failure to address the conflict and the ensuing humanitarian crisis, which some of the major aid organisations are saying is the largest crisis they have ever dealt with. We all must bear responsibility for the ineffectiveness of diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution. The most recent attack of what are assumed to be chemical weapons was the largest, killing over 1,400 people, but it was not the first.
Whatever agent was used in Syria and whoever is responsible, this conflict cannot be kicked into the long grass by the international community any longer. I believe that we should be looking to de-escalate aggression not ratchet it up; further militarisation of this conflict is not in anyone’s interest, especially not the Syrian people.
I believe from the organisations I spoke to in preparing my speech last week that any military action would be extremely high risk. To do this without UN Security Council support in my opinion would be unwise. The regime would almost certainly take retaliatory action probably against its own people but quite likely more widely. There is no doubt that action needs to be taken, but it should be the right action. Not taking military action must be seen as a strength, not a weakness.
As a starting point, Chapter 6 of the UN Charter needs to be invoked to negotiate an end to the violence. It is noted that conflict resolution capacity is diminished in the Middle East but I believe that we should be encouraging regional players to step up – better links to and communication with Russia is key, but also China and, if possible, Iran. For example Russia and China are signatories to the UN Chemical Weapons and Genocide Conventions.
There is an urgent need to resurrect the Geneva communiqué and for the UN/Arab League to convene an international Geneva II conference as soon as possible with representatives on all sides present and no preconditions for attendance.
In addition, under the UN ‘Responsibility to Protect’ immediate action is also needed by the UK, US and others to halt this growing humanitarian disaster. Medicines, protective clothing, water, food, and shelter are all needed now.
Public opinion is overwhelmingly against military intervention in Syria. Of the many constituents who have contacted me, not one has expressed support for military action. I am pleased that Ed Miliband led the debate last week, acting in a principled way in the national interest, reflecting the public’s views. I am relieved that Parliament voted democratically against military action as a ‘solution’ to the appalling attacks in Syria.
The militarisation of what began as a peaceful, political protest has taken over and detracts from what ordinary Syrians and those civil society groups are seeking to do – create a democratic and inclusive country. I believe that only a negotiated, political solution can help them provide a sustained, peaceful future.