Air Strikes on Syria

Although due to time limits I was unable to deliver my full speech in Parliament, here is what I wrote:

 

Thank you Mr Speaker.

Following the Prime Minister’s statement to the House last month I have been listening to my own constituents and considering my own position on the Syrian campaign.  I can honestly say that I have come to this with an open mind.

There were a number of very sensible comments and suggestions which I have raised with a number of Cabinet Ministers.  Later, I will come on to explain the reasons why I am pleased to see that a number of these suggestions have been raised in the motion today.

Mr Speaker, a few weeks ago one of Britain’s allys were attacked by an unprecedented enemy.  For centuries Britain has taken a lead in the world to help fight tyranny and promote liberty and freedom.  We have a responsibility to support them.  Daesh is the antithesis to everything we hold dear and they must be stopped.  The time is now to ensure that we stand firm against our enemies – we cannot delay any further or risk people being killed on our streets.

For those people that have contacted me to say that our streets are safer by staying out of the conflict, I feel that they have only heard part of the explanation.  Daesh will not think twice about slaughtering our citizens in the UK, they believe that our culture, our society and everything that we believe in should be crushed.  Even though we have no military involvement in Syria currently Daesh are still threatening attacks on our country every day.

Mr Speaker, I will briefly outline my thoughts on what has been said over the last few weeks on this issue.  I will then explain the areas of concern and what I have heard in reassurance.

First I am very pleased that we have a strong international development strategy to help rebuild Syria following potential intervention.  £1bn of UK investment will help.  Britain has a proud history of helping nations in need and I am convinced that those people in refugee camps want to go home and we need to help rebuild their country.

Second, I am very pleased that the diplomatic solution is showing early signs of success.  While it is still early days, the progress with Vienna and a conference in Riad later this month is something to welcome.  I am still certain that the only way to remove Assad would be to work on a diplomatic solution working with Russia and other coalition allies to help transition the country.  That is why I couldn’t have supported the previous vote.

Mr Speaker, many constituents were concerned with aerial strikes in Syria.  I can understand why they would be concerned if this aerial campaign was treated in isolation from a strong ground operation orchestrated by opposition forces in Syria.  I would like to stress at this point that I do not want to see UK boots on the ground.  I believe this would be counterproductive and we should follow the example set in Iraq.  The Iraqi Government has already said that it does not want coalition ground forces in combative roles on the ground.  We must follow this pattern in Syria.

Following a range of conversations with the Secretary of State and other Ministers I am reassured of the need for Air Strikes in Syria especially as we have precision technology that would reduce the number of civilian casualties.  While we obviously cannot talk about particular sensitive intelligence it is quite clear that Daesh headquarters in Raqqa is tweeting tens of thousands of time a day in dozens of different languages.  This simply cannot continue.  When I am asked whether this will encourage Daesh to attack us, it is clear that we need to take out their recruitment operations promoting jihad around the world.  This has an obvious effect on our security at home as the Home Secretary has already made clear.  We also have to make sure that we take out strategic military equipment and facilities that Daesh are using against the opposition forces in Syria.  The opposition forces simply cannot take on both Government forces as well as Daesh.  We need to give them some respite so that they can rebuild their forces to take on Raqqa themselves.

One of the other key concerns I have relates to the fact that the head of the Daesh snake can be cut off but that it may grow up elsewhere.  In order to stop this from happening we need a strong ground strategy.  This cannot be rushed but also cannot be delayed.  Daesh are looking for targets all the time.  The atrocities in Paris could just have easily been in London.  Daesh are dangerous and we should be taking the fight to them.  I am still concerned that the Government does not have a strong enough ground forces strategy and I have the reassurance of the Defence Secretary that he will be improving this while strategic aerial campaigns are ongoing.

I was very encouraged that the Government has introduced a very sensible reporting back function to Parliament.  I am also pleased to see that the Government has listened to MPs who have called for quarterly reporting.  Unlike previous campaigns in Iraq and Libya this will, I hope, ensure that we do not make the same mistakes.  The accountability of this Government is much enhanced and I hope the Secretary of State will make it clear what this reporting back will look like.  Parliament should have the opportunity to review the campaign on a regular basis and we will do all that we can to ensure that this is a successful campaign.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker I conclude as I started. 

·       When one of our ally’s has been attacked

·       our freedoms, liberties and beliefs are at risk

·       When women are being raped, children are being killed, gay people are being thrown off roofs and Christians are being decapitated

Can we seriously stand by and watch this happen from afar?

We absolutely have to act now.  We have a decent diplomatic solution, we have a strong international aid plan, and the opposition forces desperately need some respite from being attacked on two fronts.  As I have clearly said, I will not shy away from my calls for a stronger ground strategy but this should be created at the same time as an aerial campaign in Syria.  We cannot afford to risk our security while we wait.

I will be voting in favour of military action in Syria later today.