Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The vote on Syria

This evening the House of Commons voted, 397 to 223, a majority of 174, to extend our air campaign into Syria.

Before deciding to stand for election to this House one of the questions I asked myself is ‘would I be able to stand up and be counted on days like today?’

I have to say that I take this vote today as one of the most serious and solemn days of my life to date. I have spent more time considering and indeed agonising on how I would vote on this motion than just about anything else I have had to do.

In fact it was only yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, once I had seen the actual wording of the motion, that I came to a settled position on how I would be voting.

I view this issue as a matter of conscience and I also want to make clear that I have come to my decision on how I voted as a matter of my own choice. I was not pressured into my position by the Government Whips or anyone else, and anyone who thinks or suggests otherwise is very mistaken and clearly really does not know me at all.

As a newly elected MP, just over six months ago, I approached this issue without the baggage that some other MPs have from previous votes on military action. That does not mean I do not recognise there are lessons to be learnt from the past. Indeed there are. But I also believe we should not be hamstrung by the past.

This is an extension of a conflict we are already engaged in. It is not a new conflict.
Da’esh are already our mortal enemy. They hate us and all we stand for. What is at stake is our national security.

But it makes no sense to me whatsoever for us to be willing to attack them from the air in Iraq but not be prepared to follow them in Syria. If they are our enemy, then they are our enemy wherever they can be found.

But we also need to note that extending our air raids into Syria is only one part of a full package of measures contained in this motion. I want to see peace and stability brought to Syria and it surrounding region.

I am pleased that this motion commits us to not just bombing, but to our continued involvement to find a political resolution in Syria. I want to see an end to the refugee crisis and seeing thousands of Syrian people risking their lives to escape the terror of Da’esh.

The full wording of the motion is here

‘That this House notes that ISIL poses a direct threat to the United Kingdom; welcomes United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 which determines that ISIL constitutes an 'unprecedented threat to international peace and security' and calls on states to take 'all necessary measures' to prevent terrorist acts by ISIL and to 'eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria'; further notes the clear legal basis to defend the UK and our allies in accordance with the UN Charter; notes that military action against ISIL is only one component of a broader strategy to bring peace and stability to Syria; welcomes the renewed impetus behind the Vienna talks on a ceasefire and political settlement; welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees; underlines the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction in Syria; welcomes the Government’s continued determination to cut ISIL’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons; notes the requests from France, the US and regional allies for UK military assistance; acknowledges the importance of seeking to avoid civilian casualties, using the UK’s particular capabilities; notes the Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; welcomes the Government's commitment to provide quarterly progress reports to the House; and accordingly supports Her Majesty's Government in taking military action, specifically airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria; and offers its wholehearted support to Her Majesty's Armed Forces.’

We want to be able to begin the work of reconstruction in Syria and see the countries of the region rebuilt and returned to economic stability. This motion commits us as a country to play a full part in all of these things.

But none of this will be possible while Da’esh are able to continue their campaign of terror and barbarity.

In coming to my decision on how to vote, along with wanting to see a comprehensive package to work for peace in the region, I had three main specific concerns. These were reflected in many of the emails I received on this issue.

1.    Will extending our military involvement into Syria increase or lower the risk to our nation.

We have to understand we are already a top target for Da’esh. The Prime Minister has stated that there have been seven known attacks planned on our country. The reason we have not witnessed the scenes we watched on the streets of Paris in this country is not because we are not a target. It is down to the professionalism and dedication of our security services and police, for which we should be eternally grateful.

The level of threat to this country is already severe and will not go away until Da’esh are destroyed.

Listening to some people it seems some have the view that doing nothing is the safe option. When it comes to confronting terror and evil there are no safe options.
Doing nothing will not make the threat go away. Doing nothing will not make our country any safer. The only way to reduce the threat is to stop Da’esh planning these attacks on us and our allies.

2.    The second specific concern was that of the risk of civilian casualties.

I am sure no one wants to see innocent civilians caught up as casualties in this war.
But the fact is they already are. Da’esh is killing, terrorising and enslaving innocent people in Syria. They are killing more civilians than are ever likely to be caught up in our aerial campaign. Not attacking Da’esh will result in more and more civilian casualties.

I am also comforted by the news that in our 15 months of bombing in Iraq there are no reported civilian casualties. Our precision targeting capabilities are second to none in the world. I do not believe we can stand by and allow Da’esh to continue their reign of terror. I am therefore content that on this important issue of the risk to civilian casualties extending our bombing into Da’esh is the least worst option open to us.

3.    The third question I wanted answering is - Is it legal?

United Nations resolution number 2249 has authorised all national states who have the ability to help tackle Da’esh. The exact resolution states:

We call upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh”

The resolution makes targeted strikes against Da’esh legal under international law. This is in addition to having a majority of MPs voting for action in the House of Commons.   

Finally, some people have suggested that this is not our fight and that we should just simply walk by.

But this is our fight. British people were killed on the beach in Tunisia and the streets of Paris.

Additionally we have been asked by our closest allies the USA and France, for our support in Syria. I can only imagine how we would feel if it was the streets of London that had been attacked and France refused to stand with us.

We have often learned throughout our national history that there is a price to pay for peace. As a country we have always been willing to step up and pay the price. Da’esh is a direct threat to our national security, our peace and freedom and our democracy. I believe we should still be willing to play our part in fighting for our way of life.

In conclusion, this is a very complex situation and I respect everyone who has seriously considered this matter, whatever conclusion they have come to. There are no easy answers but I believe that doing nothing is not an option.

That is why I voted for the motion to commit this country to further engagement in Syria.

I know that not everyone will agree with my decision. But I hope everyone can accept that I have made this decision after careful consideration, considering all the facts and information I have received and having attended numerous briefings as well as listening to the debate over recent weeks.

Thank you to all of those who contacted me with views on both sides of this debate. It is clear people hold strong views both for and against further action in Syria.

I have not made this decision out of any sense of party loyalty but because I believe it is the right decision for our nation. I trust people can respect that.

A video of my contribution to today's debate can be found here