Westminster Column - Military Action in Syria

3rd December 2015

There are many important debates held in the House of Commons but none is more important than a decision to engage in military combat and place the brilliant young men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces in harm’s way on our behalf.

The ten and a half hour debate on Wednesday this week showed the seriousness with which Members of Parliament take these decisions. I listened to much of the debate (having taken part in the original statement on military action by the Prime Minister early last week) and cannot think of a single speech on either side of the motion which in anyway lacked integrity or passion.

However, the speech by Hilary Benn the Labour Member of Parliament with responsibility for Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Labour Opposition was probably one of the best I have heard since I first entered the House of Commons nearly 30 years ago. Having shadowed him as the Opposition Development Spokesman when he was the Secretary of State for International Development, I know him to be both thoughtful and wise and I like to think that part of the reason that both of us reached the same conclusion on this issue is that we have both shared the responsibilities for humanitarian relief administered by Britain.

There is little doubt that there are no easy answers to the threat which we face, but in the end the question is a simple one. What ought we to do along with our allies to confront this danger to British citizens, our country, other countries and those in Syria and Iraq who suffer under the unspeakable terrorist yoke of ISIL thugs. The carnage in Paris could very easily have been in Birmingham or London and it could still be.
The conditions set out in the UN Security Council Resolution 2249 was unanimously agreed and asks Britain to take action, to do it now, and to do it in Syria as well as in Iraq.

I quote one passage from Hilary Benn’s speech which seems to me to sum up the issue concisely.

He said, “We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. We are faced by fascists—not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy—the means by which we will make our decision tonight—in contempt. What we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.”

The border between Syria and Iraq in this conflict is completely meaningless; it is not respected by anyone. As the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative in London said last week, “The old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.”

I believe the moral imperative to act is very strong and the legal case to do so is watertight. We need simultaneously to pursue with vigour the Vienna process and the political track to ceasefire and a transition to a new representative government in Syria. We need to plan now for post conflict reconstruction. But we cannot stand by and leave this to our allies and that is why I voted in favour of military action on Wednesday night.