On Wednesday 2nd December Parliament will vote on whether or not to authorise airstrikes against ISIL/DAESH in Syria.
You can read the proposed motion the Government will put before the House of Commons here.
There is no more important decision that a Member of Parliament can make than to commit our armed forces to military action.
Over the past few weeks, the issue of extending airstrikes against ISIL/DAESH has been the focus of great debate.
I am grateful to all constituents who have contacted me about this important matter in recent weeks. I have had the opportunity to speak with residents, local Party members and colleagues at Westminster. In a debate on Wednesday 23rd November, I asked the Prime Minister what lessons he thinks we can draw from the recent and current action in Iraq, and what that might tell us about what we might be about to see in Syria if military action is authorised. You can read the Prime Minister’s reply here.
I have not made a final decision on whether to support airstrikes against ISIL/DAESH in Syria, as MPs are still receiving briefings from security chiefs and military personnel. I also want to listen carefully to the contributions made during the debate prior to the vote on Wednesday.
However, there are some fundamental issues that I think will influence my decision.
Firstly, does ISIL/DAESH pose a clear and present danger to the UK, to our allies and to innocent civilians across the world?
I know you will agree that ISIL/DAESH are a truly appalling terrorist group. They are responsible for terrible human rights abuses and war crimes, including the use of child soldiers, the enslavement of women and girls, the torture and execution of prisoners, and throwing homosexuals off the tops of buildings. This has been taking place in their strongholds within Iraq and Syria.
Closer to home, the Prime Minister has informed us that seven ISIL/DAESH plots against the UK have been thwarted over the past 12 months. This is one more than the Head of MI5 announced in October.
We have seen British tourists murdered on the beaches of Tunisia. 130 have died and many hundreds injured in the atrocities committed in Paris last month. There have been many more ISIL/DAESH-related attacks around the globe this year, including horrendous bombings in Ankara and Beirut, as well as the devastating explosion onboard the Metrojet airliner over the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.
Is there international support for military action to be taken against ISIL/DAESH in Syria?
On 20th November the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution (2249), which stated that ISIL/DAESH constituted an ‘unprecedented threat’ to international peace and security and called on Member states with the capacity to take 'all necessary measures' to deal with the threat of ISIL/DAESH in Syria and Iraq. You can read the UN Security Council resolution here.
At the Labour Party Conference in September, securing a UN resolution was one of the key conditions that had to be met if military action was to be supported.
This resolution must be taken seriously and, following the attacks in Paris, the Socialist Leader of France has also made an explicit request to the UK to join airstrikes against ISIL/DAESH in Syria.
What have been the outcome from the UK’s involvement against ISIL/DAESH in Iraq?
In September 2014, Members of Parliament voted overwhelmingly - 524 to 43 – for the UK to join a coalition of countries taking part in military action against ISIL/DAESH in Iraq.
The reports of the outcomes of airstrikes in Iraq have shown that our brave RAF aircrews have helped to shrink the territory controlled by ISIL/DAESH by 30% and succeeded in doing great damage to their infrastructure. Over the course of 1,600 missions and 360 airstrikes have helped Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Pershmerga troops to liberate towns from ISIL/DAESH and have helped to destroy large stockpiles of munitions.
Whilst it is impossible to guarantee that no civilians will ever be hurt as a result of bombing, it is important to note that there have been no known cases of civilian casualties resulting from RAF airstrikes over Iraq.
Is the UK already involved in confronting ISIL/DAESH in Syria?
The proposals currently under discussion are not a decision to go to war, but to extend military action against ISIL/DAESH into Syria.
Air strikes in Iraq are having a genuine effect on downgrading ISIL/DAESH’s capabilities. Given that ISIL/DAESH do not recognise traditional borders, there is a strong case to be made for extending airstrikes into Syria too. Does it make sense to allow ISIL/DAESH safe haven in one country when we are confronting them in another?
At this moment in time, the UK has reconnaissance, drone aircraft operating over Syria. We are providing military equipment to forces opposed to both ISIL/DAESH and President Assad. In addition, it has been reported that UK pilots who are embedded with coalition allies' forces have already conducted air strikes against ISIL/DAESH in Syria.
If military action is authorised, is it part of a comprehensive plan to end the civil war in Syria?
Military action, if authorised, can be only one part of a plan - including a parallel political process and further diplomatic efforts - which helps to bring the conflict to an end.
The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) – including the Arab League, China, Egypt, the EU, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the UK, the UN, and the United States – has been holding important discussions in Vienna on how to resolve the conflict. The breadth of membership of the ISSG shows the level of international support there is on this issue. It is absolutely vital we continue to support diplomatic efforts to enable a Syrian peace process because, as my colleague Hilary Benn – Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary - has said “[ISIL/DAESH] thrives in the vacuum of governance and the chaos, fear and violence created by the Syrian civil war.”
It is also vital we redouble our efforts to deal with one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War. This will involve immediate relief to the millions internally displaced within Syria and those whom have sought sanctuary in neighbouring countries. I believe the Government should be doing more to help Syrian refugees. I will continue to urge the Government to implement the constructive and practical proposals suggested by Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, in her ‘Crisis Action Plan’ to support those most in need. You can read more about this Plan here. However, I support the recent announcement that the UK, in coalition with international partners, will be hosting a Syria Conference in London, early next year, to increase immediate and long-term support to vulnerable Syrians.
I think it is to Jeremy Corbyn’s great credit that he recognises the strength of different opinions on this crucial issue and will allow Labour MPs a free vote tomorrow. I know all my Party colleagues will follow their conscience on a vote of such importance. I will respect whatever decision they come to, whether or not it is the same as mine.
Before the vote takes place at 10pm on Wednesday 2nd December I will be reflecting upon the issues above, weighing up the arguments during the debate and giving further consideration to the views of you – my constituents - on the issues of airstrikes and the wider plans to bring an end to the Syrian conflict.
If you have not done so already, I want to know what you think.
Please let me know your views by contacting my office on: firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you.