32015Dec

The vote on Syria in Parliament

Houses of Commons chamber
I have just returned to my office having spent the entire day listening to colleagues of all political persuasions discussing with huge passion a motion that will allow air strikes by the RAF on ISIL targets in Syria.

Amongst all the debate and emotion that preceded tonight’s vote on the UK extending airstrikes over the Iraqi border into Syria, there remains a terrible sense of déjà vu which, very understandably, has caused concern among a great number of constituents.

The major concern is a foreboding that the government is repeating errors of Tony Blair’s government in Iraq and the more recent events in Libya by committing to military action without a comprehensive long-term strategy involving regional powers and allies. In those previous military interventions, the UK vastly underestimated the complexities of the regional politics and the fanatical nature of many of those we were fighting against.

We were all shocked by the butchery committed by ISIL in Paris last month. We have seen ISIL backed terrorism in Belgium, Denmark, Lebanon, Turkey and Kuwait, as well as the ongoing atrocities they are carrying out on a daily basis in the Middle East. Murder, systematic rape of women and girls, public beheadings and throwing people from buildings simply for being homosexual are a reality of life under ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The Prime Minister spoke for over two and a half hours to Parliament and outlined his case last week. On Monday there was a lengthy debate in Parliament on the Middle East and, again, today the entire day in Parliament was dedicated to this vital subject.

There have been dozens of meetings, security briefings and statements in Westminster, showing how seriously every MP takes these decisions which are, I believe, a matter of conscience.

Some have said that this was a ‘rush to war’. I do not believe that is the case at all. This has been discussed for over two years, but to satisfy some concerns that I shared with the three hundred or so constituents who have emailed me on this, at the weekend I wrote to the Prime Minister to seek clarification on a number of points. In addition, I have held long and detailed talks with the Government Chief Whip and Foreign Secretary and Ministers in the Ministry of Defence.

The term ‘bombing’ often conjures up images of large, unintelligent devises falling freely out of planes onto broad targets with no control over their destination or the damage that they will cause. I believe we must talk of ‘targeted strikes’ as a more accurate term for our potential military engagement.

Overall, what is needed is a comprehensive and realistic long-term strategy – both military and non-military – to respond to ISIL. I believe that there is a credible, long-term strategy and I have received assurances that any strategic bombing will take place in parallel with regional forces on the ground, perhaps including the Kurdish Peshmerga, moderate Security Forces and the Free Syrian Army and that these troops are actually capable of regaining any territory cleared by the bombing campaign. The Joint Intelligence Committee have said there is tens of thousands of moderate, regional troops available for this task. I have no reason to doubt them in their assessments. Our targeted airstrikes will be a vital first towards degrading, supressing and ultimately defeating ISIL.

The non-military approach is arguably more complicated than the military. With the multifarious and deep rooted religious and cultural differences there needs to be political transition in Syria that is carefully managed.

I do not subscribe to the notion that we can use diplomatic methods and talking to persuade a fanatical, barbaric regime to stop blowing themselves and other innocent people up. They believe in destroying ‘Western’ values and our way of life. This is not, as some have suggested, comparable to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Our allies are calling for help. The French socialist President, the UN Security Council (which includes both China and Russia), President Obama, our Prime Minister, military and security forces and, very significantly, the Germans all agree that action is absolutely necessary. If we do not act after one of our closest allies, France, suffers mass bombings with 130 people murdered on the streets, in theatres, cafes and at a football match then when will we act. What sort of ally would we be if we did nothing?

This summer, ISIL took the life of a local couple and twenty-six other UK citizens whilst they holidayed on the beach in Tunisia. If there was an ISIL attack on UK soil, or if more UK citizens were killed by a terrorist attack, it would be on my conscience for life if I did not authorise our armed forces to take whatever measures they needed to keep us safe. As the Prime Minister stated in his letter to me, “British airstrikes against ISIL in Syria are an integral part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses to us.”

I have been utterly torn on this issue and, having given it a huge amount of deep thought, tonight I took the decision to support the Government’s plans to extend our airstrikes against ISIL militants into Syria. I appreciate that many constituents will disagree with my point of view and the conclusions I have drawn as a result of my discussions with the military, Ministers, the Prime Minister, colleagues in Parliament and the security services, but it is my decision to make, based on what I believe to be in the national security of the UK and for the sake of innocent people in Syria.

UPDATE (3 December 15): This morning I also spoke to BBC Radio Wiltshire about why we had to vote for air strikes in Syria.