There is no harder decision for an MP to make than whether to vote to send British forces to war. On Wednesday, that is what Parliament will be asked to do.
I am not an instinctive ideologue or a pacifist on these issues – this, for me, is a matter of conscience. If military intervention can help to protect Britain and those who are being persecuted abroad then I am in favour of it. However, there must be some guarantee that it will have the desired effect – that is, a reduction in violence and persecution.
I listened carefully to the Prime Minister address the House of Commons last week, expecting him to outline why, in the context of British military action in Syria, this is the case. What I heard did not, in my view, amount to a compelling case.
Having spent the weekend consulting constituents and local party members and examining the available evidence, I am now even more convinced that the Government has not yet done enough to persuade either myself or the country as a whole that bombing ISIS in Syria is the correct course of action.
As a result, I am currently opposed to further British military intervention in Syria. This is due largely to the following significant concerns:
1. There is a worrying lack of strategy for the aftermath of any military intervention. I did not hear in the Prime Minister’s statement the required depth in outlining the long-term plan for Syria that must follow any military intervention. As such, it is not clear what the end goal is or how bombing ISIS in Syria will help us get there.
2. Air strikes will harm civilians and could serve as a key recruitment tool for ISIS. We cannot fall into the trap set by terrorists; the attacks in Paris were not just a horrendous terrorist act, but also a provocation. I am worried that we are, in effect, taking the bait and performing the acts that ISIS have told their followers around the world would follow. There is evidence that ISIS want air strikes because they know it will aid their recruitment efforts. I fear we will be creating content for recruitment communications for ISIS for years to come.
3. Like others, I remain hugely sceptical of the Prime Minister’s claim that there is a Syrian coalition army of 70,000 soldiers ready to support Western air strikes on the ground. It strikes me that this questionable number is a pivotal part of the case for intervening and there is nowhere near enough evidence to support the claim. The Prime Minister cites the source of that information as the Joint Intelligence Committee, but it is worth remembering that the 2003 claim that an Iraqi missile could reach the UK in 45 minutes was also signed off by the JIC. Without adequate support on the ground, the impact of air strikes is questionable, and I am yet to be convinced that this ground support exists.
4. Finally, I fear that military strikes will deepen the power vacuum in Syria that has allowed ISIS to spread its hateful ideology. There are already numerous splinter groups and splinters of splinter groups operating in Syria, including: the dictator Bashar al-Assad and his army, the Free Syrian Army and its constituent factions, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Ahrar al-Sham, and the Al-Nusra Front, which is an affiliate of Al-Qaeda. There are no obvious allies in Syria and no guarantee that military action against ISIS will not result in a power struggle between equally unpalatable groups.
As a result of all of the above, as things stand on Wednesday I will be voting against extending British military action to Syria.