Last week in Parliament we heard the Prime Minister’s response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Syria. There will be a vote tomorrow on whether the UK should take action against so called “ISIL” or Da’esh in that country. This is a matter which I take extremely seriously and one on which every MP will have to carefully consult their conscience.
Following the appalling attacks on innocent civilians in Ankara, Beirut, Paris, Tunisia and elsewhere it is clear that Da’esh are determined to attack civilians wherever they can. The United Nations Security Council has now passed a unanimous resolution (2249) which “calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law…, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts … and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.”
The UK has so far seen seven plots directly related to Da’esh foiled here in Britain and we have seen more than 30 of our own citizens killed, mostly on the beaches of Tunisia. The estimate of the security services is that the threat of an attack on our shores is currently about as high as it can be. The brutality with which they have treated the populations in the area they control using rape, genocide and torture, shows that Da’esh are the common enemy of humanity, that their perverted cult has nothing to do with mainstream Islam and shows the impossibility of negotiating with or reaching an accommodation with such a group.
The cross party Foreign Affairs Select Committee previously set out a range of concerns and challenges including, at the time, an absence of support from the UN, which led them to conclude that sufficient argument had not yet been made for why Britain should take part in strikes or how they could improve the situation. Last Thursday the Prime Minister responded to this and spent over two hours responding to the challenges that committee had set out. He also released a 30 page response to the report which I spent the weekend analysing.
I shared the concerns of the Foreign Affairs committee on whether air strikes could do anything to improve the situation. However, like the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, I have taken into account the security assessment, the unanimous UN resolution and the argument about the difference the UK can make.
One crucial point of the Prime Minister’s argument is that the RAF has capabilities to target strikes so as to take out ISIL fighters and not civilians. I have seen for myself through my time with the RAF in the Armed Forces Parliamentary scheme, their ability to target tiny objects in complex situations, which is unparalleled in the world. Over months of air strikes in Iraq our planes have killed hundreds of Da’esh fighters and helped local forces recover one third of the territory taken by Da’esh without a single report of a civilian casualty. The contrast with the impact of less targeted Russian air strikes in Syria is stark.
The Prime Minister has also set out a detailed plan for reconstruction and investment to rebuild Syria after the transition to a new Government and an end to the civil war there. Crucially there are talks taking place in Vienna which make such an outcome a real possibility for the first time and have brought together everyone from Russia and Iran to the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to agree on the case for ending the civil war.
The UK has already played a leading role in cutting off financial support to Da’esh and cracking down on their sources of supply. The UN has resolved to do more on this front and I have no doubt that the UK will continue to lead the way on this in weeks to come but with banks robbed, oilfields seized and civilians targeted for protection payments it is clear that their financial supplies will not be stopped until they are denied territory in which to operate.
The UK is already a leading proponent of a global counter extremism strategy which will aim to target the causes of radicalisation and dry up the support for extremist ideologies such as those of Da’esh. The Prime Minister this week launched a new Commonwealth Fund to counter extremism and the UK is helping to coordinate global efforts to counter the extremist narrative with centres in Abu Dhabi and the EU. At home our Prevent Strategy is aimed at countering the extremist narrative wherever it should arise and teaching British values of respect and tolerance has become an essential part of the national curriculum.
I will not personally decide on how my vote is cast until I have seen the precise motion put forward by the Government and heard the whole debate, but so long as strikes are part of a broader political strategy, and the UK’s explicit aim is to protect civilian lives, the case that has been made is compelling. I have had letters on both sides of the argument from constituents, and I appreciate there are strongly held views on both sides, but would ask that people in Worcester make the same study of the evidence as I have done.
There can be no more serious decision an MP can take than the decision of whether to deploy our armed forces. It cannot be taken lightly but must be based on evidence, reason and conviction. I can assure constituents that however I vote, it will be in the interests of protecting civilian lives.
The report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee can be found here:
UN Resolution 2249 can be found here:
The Prime Minister’s reply can be found here:
His statement to the Commons can be found here: