My views on Syria

I have received hundreds of emails about the situation in Syria asking for my views on the government’s proposal that the UK should join coalition forces and undertake airstrikes in Syria. I am grateful to everyone who has got in touch to share their views, both for and against airstrikes and those who have thoughtfully set out the complexity of the decision and the finely balanced nature of the arguments.

I attended the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria in Parliament last week, participated fully in the discussions and debates within the Parliamentary Labour Party, have been briefed by senior military officers and have listened carefully to the views of all of the local residents who have contacted me about this matter.  I am writing to set out my views and my voting intention.

The conflict in Syria is complex and multi-faceted.  Bashar al-Assad has waged a war of destruction against his people, resulting in unimaginable pain, misery and loss.  250,000 Syrians have lost their lives and it is no surprise that many thousands more choose to risk a perilous journey across Europe in search of safety and security.  The highest level of correspondence I have received since being elected has been about the refugee crisis – huge numbers of constituents have contacted me to say that the UK should do more to help refugees and that the UK must take action to help bring stability to Syria.

A country which was once peaceful and prosperous, the home of an extraordinarily rich cultural heritage, has been terribly damaged by civil war.  The chaos has allowed ISIL (also known as Daesh) to gain territory in Syria, using the land and resources they control to fund a campaign of ideological warfare and international terror. Daesh is an entirely abhorrent organisation.  There can be nothing but condemnation for an organisation which beheads and crucifies people, uses rape as a weapon of war, persecutes religious and ethnic minorities, and perpetrates the dreadful atrocities we have recently seen in Paris, Beirut, Ankara and Sharm El Sheikh.

The international community’s failure to take united action to address the situation in Syria has led to a significant deterioration over the past four years.  I am clear that the UK has a responsibility within the wider international community to do more to address the crisis in Syria, and that there is an urgent need to act.  This includes engagement to persuade Russia to withdraw support from Bashar al-Assad and for a new national government of unity in Syria.

Whether or not to support military action is the gravest decision that any Member of Parliament has to take and must be taken with clear conviction. The key question in this instance is whether authorising UK airstrikes will lead to a peaceful resolution in Syria and increased security in the wider world, and whether this is the best way to support our neighbour and long term ally France. 

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister’s statement last week.  I was glad that he spoke of the need for a comprehensive programme of action in relation to Syria, including a long term commitment to aid and reconstruction and to diplomatic efforts to replace Bashar al-Assad.  But there are important areas where I have serious concerns.

Diplomatic efforts to remove Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria, resolute efforts to cut off resources to Daesh, an international strategy to stem the ideological reach and growth of Daesh and to stop new recruits, and a continued commitment to international aid and reconstruction all form part of the approach which stands the best chance of a long-lasting peace for Syria. While the Prime Minister has highlighted the need for a comprehensive strategy I do not believe that he has identified all of the pieces of the jigsaw that are needed. There is a widely held view from many with extensive military experience that airstrikes are not the most effective way to defeat Daesh, and that bombing Raqqa would risk the lives of civilians.

The leadership of the Labour Party has agreed that there will be a free vote on the government’s proposals. For the reasons outlined above and having closely studied the government’s motion, I will be voting against UK airstrikes on Syria tomorrow.  I acknowledge that there are a range of views on this matter within the country and the Labour Party and I respect colleagues who, after careful consideration, are taking an alternative view. I sincerely hope that the debate is undertaken in a respectful manner that reflects the magnitude of the decision at hand.

I hope that this will be read in the spirit of sombre reflection in which it was written.  There will be consequences if Parliament votes for airstrikes, but there will also be important consequences for Syria if the international community fails to take effective action to tackle Daesh and to stop the fighting.  The current choice is being presented by many as a choice between action or inaction. I believe that there is a pressing need for action, but it must be the right course of action. 

I will vote against airstrikes tomorrow, but will press very hard for the UK to engage fully in a comprehensive strategy to achieve a peaceful resolution to the current conflict and for the long term reconstruction of Syria.