This evening, MPs are voting on the following motion:
“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”.
The decision to use military force is never an easy one. We are putting our brave servicemen in danger and there is clearly a risk of innocent civilians being killed. I have thought long and hard about it. Ultimately I decided to support the motion for the following reasons.
First, no-one disputes that Daesh are not only committing appalling crimes in Syria but also pose a direct threat to us. They have murdered British citizens on a beach in Tunisia back in July and in Paris a few weeks’ ago and the Prime Minister has revealed that over the past year our police and security and intelligence services have foiled no fewer than seven Daesh-inspired plots in this country.
Second, it makes no sense to attack Daesh in Iraq but not in Syria when that border is meaningless to Daesh.
Third, those constituents who have contacted me opposing airstrikes are quite right to say that bombing won't work on its own. However, it is equally true that Daesh won’t be defeated without the use of military force. What is needed - and what the motion proposes - is a comprehensive strategy comprising:
- diplomatic action, working with the Russians to end the civil war in Syria and establish a new government that enjoys broad popular support so that the resources of the Syrian state can be turned against Daesh;
- action to cut off Daesh's income;
- airstrikes to degrade Daesh and assist local non-extremist ground forces; and
- humanitarian aid for the Syrian people while the conflict continues and support with reconstruction once it is finished.
It is no good doing some of these things, but not others. Only a strategy encompassing all of these elements will work.
Fourth, there is clear evidence that this strategy is working in Iraq. Since we started supporting Iraqi forces they have re-taken about a third of the territory Daesh conquered.
Fifth, we have learnt from the mistakes of the past. We are not proposing to use western ground forces because that would radicalise more people, swelling Daesh’s ranks. But just as it is important that we do not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, we also must avoid the mistakes of the 1990s when we allowed Al Qaeda to operate unmolested from Afghanistan and hence plan attacks on the scale of 9/11.
Sixth, there is both cross-party and public support for what the Prime Minister is proposing. I expect MPs from six different parties to support the motion tonight. And the latest opinion poll, published in The Times this morning showed 48% of the public support the RAF taking part in airstrikes and 31% oppose it.
Seventh, our allies are asking us to help them - not just the French and the Americans but key powers in the region like Jordan. What would it say about this country if we refused to help our friends as they face this threat?
Finally, we need to think not just about how to keep ourselves safe, but also about the Syrian people who are suffering under Daesh but could also be the innocent victims of any bombing campaign. It is greatly to the credit of the constituents who have contacted me that rather than supporting a gung-ho response to the atrocities in Paris, they worry about the impact of any military action on innocent civilians.
The Government is not proposing an indiscriminate bombing campaign. We will be careful both about the targets we select and only use precision weapons. Our precision bombing capacity is superior even tot the Americans', one of the reasons our allies are so keen for us to help in Syria. In the year or so in which the RAF have been operating in Iraq, there is no evidence that our attacks have led to any civilian deaths. Nevertheless, the risk cannot be entirely removed. But we have to weigh the price of taking action against the price of doing nothing. Daesh are murdering thousands of civilians. If we allow them to continue unmolested far more people will lose their lives.
I’d like to thank everyone who contacted me about this issue. Whether or not I ended up voting in the way you wanted, you helped to shape my views. And if you are disappointed with the decision I have come to, I hope you at least feel that I have thought about these issues very carefully.
PS I am delighted that the Prime Minister announced today that the Government will from now on refer to so-called Islamic State as Daesh. They are not a state and they represent a perversion of Islam.