Voting on whether or not to take military action is the most serious decision any MP can take. All MPs, whatever decision they reach in the end, rightly think very deeply about all the issues involved.
It is the first duty of the Government, and indeed the Opposition, to defend our national security and to do everything we can to keep the public safe. ISIL/Daesh present a fundamental threat to that safety. Their barbarity knows no bounds and the heinous crimes that they have committed around the globe have inflicted shock and horror in equal quantities.
We know that ISIL/Daesh has killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc and 130 people in Paris. Crucially, they are plotting more attacks on the UK and other countries from their headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. These terrorists are determined to wreak destruction on the values that we hold dear. Yesterday, I voted to extend airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh from northern Iraq into Syria.
I listened closely to the Government’s case for airstrikes and have discussed this widely with colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, members of my Constituency Labour Party and, importantly, with the wider public.
As a result of the incredibly complex situation in Syria, it is absolutely vital that the Government’s proposals were subject to full scrutiny. I was very disappointed when the Government decided to ignore Labour’s call to hold a debate in the House of Commons over two days. We should have had more time to question to Government about its plans for military action.
Before David Cameron set out the case for airstrikes, Labour had outlined a series of tests at the 2015 Party Conference, which included political, diplomatic, humanitarian, and other dimensions besides the military element of action against ISIL/Daesh.
Specifically, in our emergency motion at the Labour Party Conference, Labour called on the Government to ensure that any military action met four key tests. I believe that all these tests have now been met.
First, Labour’s resolution stated that a clear and unambiguous authorisation for a bombing campaign would be needed from the United Nations. The unanimously passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, repeated attacks by ISIL/Daesh against British citizens and our allies gives the UK a right to self-defence, which is lawful under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
Second, Labour called for a comprehensive and EU-wide plan to be implemented to provide humanitarian assistance to the increased number of refugees that even more widespread bombing could to lead to. More than €4.4 billion has now been allocated for relief and recovery assistance to Syrians in their country and to refugees and their host communities in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. The UK is leading the way in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees.
Third, Labour Conference stipulated that any bombing should be exclusively directed at military targets directly associated with ISIL/Daesh. The Government’s motion authorises the use of airstrikes exclusively against this group.
Fourth, the Conference resolution sought to pursue military action only within a wider international diplomatic effort to bring the Syrian civil war to an end, since only a broadly-based and sovereign Syrian government can effectively govern its territory and prevent the spread of terrorist groups. An intensified diplomatic effort is now underway and important progress was made by the International Syria Support Group in Vienna in both October and November. The major powers of the world are united in a common vision to destroy ISIL/Daesh and to bring the wider Syrian civil war to an end.
Arguments have been made that airstrikes will not change the situation, but airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh in northern Iraq have fundamentally changed the military situation on the ground and allowed Kurdish forces to retake Sinjar. Over 1,300 RAF missions in Iraq have shrunk ISIL/Daesh held territory by 30 per cent and there have been no civilian casualties as a result of these strikes. In Syria itself, airstrikes were key to the defence of the besieged town of Kobane.
The RAF has already brought its capabilities to bear in degrading ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, with targeted airstrikes to undermine its military activities using their particular technological capability and skills. These capabilities will be invaluable in Syria, allowing our pilots to target command and control centres, fast-moving vehicles and the oil infrastructure and supply chains on which this terrorist organisation depends.
I did not take the decision to support airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh in Syria lightly and I entirely respect those who took a different view and made a different judgement. But I believe that it was the right thing to do.
Whatever different views people had about the merits or otherwise of military action, it’s important to remember that the brave men and women of our Armed Forces do not get to choose their operations. They simply do their duty – and they now deserve our support.