Speech on British Intervention in Syria
I didn’t have time to say everything I hoped to say in the debate on Syrian intervention this evening, but here is the speech I had hoped to give:
Mr Speaker, I understand very well the consequences of terrorism.
My close school friend, James Adams, was blown up on the Piccadilly Line outside Russell Square on 7th July 2005.
Five of my constituents - Anna Brandt, Arthur Frederick, Ciaran Cassidy, Lee Harris and Samantha Badham - were also killed that day.
When it comes to issues of terrorism, those people and the rest of the 52 innocent people killed that day are never far from my mind.
It is them, and the others at risk of a similar fate, that leads me to believe strongly that terrorism and those who practice it must be destroyed.
The idea, then, that those who oppose the Prime Minister’s plan are terrorist sympathisers is offensive in the extreme.
Mr Speaker, I am not a pacifist and I do not approach these votes from an ideological perspective.
I believe ISIL are a threat to millions of people in the Middle East, a threat to us here in Britain and, ultimately, a threat that must be stopped.
I came to Parliament last week with an open mind. My feelings in recent days have been conditioned by the bombings in Paris, by Turkey’s decision to strike down a Russian jet and by listening to the Prime Minister address this House last week.
The Prime Minister has made a persuasive case for degrading ISIL, and a persuasive case that further bombing will help us achieve this.
I agree with him that taking out key ISIL strongholds and headquarters will weaken their capacity.
I agree with him that our jets and our advanced missile technology would add something to the fight against ISIL.
I agree with him that the lack of a real border between Iraq and Syria makes it somewhat illogical to bomb one but not the other.
In short, I agree with the Prime Minister that the short-term strategy will work. ISIS will be hurt, their capacity diminished and their resources cut.
But, Mr Speaker, what then? What, we must ask, will happen once that is achieved?
Like many others, I have very real concerns about the medium and long-term strategy for Syria. We have seen all too often – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya – the great dangers posed when military action occurs without a clear long-term strategy for what happens once the enemy is defeated.
The idea that there is a moderate government-in-waiting in Syria is a myth. The Prime Minister’s suggestion that there are 70,000 moderate rebels on the ground is highly contested, and he seems unable to clarify that figure.
What we do know is that there are over 400 disparate groups fighting in Syria. None of them make palatable allies. Few of them are deserving of our support.
How can we be sure that, once ISIS is finally defeated, one of these 400 groups will not emerge as an equally bad – or worse – replacement?
And when it comes to choosing who to support, can we really distinguish between the butchery of Assad, the barbarity of ISIS and the Al-Qaida inspired fundamentalism of the Nusra Front?
Only the Kurdish forces could reasonably be described as moderate, and their territory is limited only to the north of the country.
This is not Iraq, where there is a clear army on the ground ready to step in and support air strikes. There are no moderate groups who could feasibly form an alternative government. That is simply not the case in Syria.
It is therefore unclear to me, as it is to many others, what the plan is for a post-ISIS Syria and how we can have any confidence that that situation will be any better than the current one.
Mr Speaker, what we have all witnessed in recent years is an exodus of moderate Syrians to all corners of the globe. 4.2 million refugees – almost a fifth of the population - have fled the country since the war started.
It is patently clear that the vast majority of the people leaving Syria are people fearing for their lives.
The decision by Britain and others to accelerate bombing will only expedite that exodus.
It begs the question: just how many moderate Syrians will be left in Syria once all our bombs have been dropped? Who will be left to support the reconstruction of that country?
A country broken by war, shattered by bombs, with the majority of its moderate civilian population having fled abroad, is not a country that can easily be rebuilt.
Mr Speaker, the Parisian bombings were an act of outrageous terror. The world has been focused on that act, on its victims and their families and loved ones.
But conducted as they were by jihadist fundamentalists, we have to consider those attacks in wider context of Islamic jihadism. In Arabic, jihad means ‘struggle’. It most usually refers to the idea of a war on behalf of Islam, against unbelievers. In the case of ISIS, it means a war against the West.
It was with that in mind that those terrorists walked into the Bataclan Theatre and other Parisian venues earlier in this month.
It was as part of a global jihad that they are determined to wage.
It was, critically, part of their plan to lure the West into that war.
Mr Speaker, we have been set a trap by a group of people who are utterly committed to waging a war with the West – a trap to tempt the West into that war. That is what these people live for - want to die for it - and the attacks in Paris were another step towards their aim of achieving it.
By responding in the way the Prime Minister is today proposing, I fear we are walking right into the very trap that has been sent for us.
Mr Speaker, these people are not stupid. They know they must bolster their ranks, broaden their support.
They know, as we do, that Western bombs will inevitably kill civilians.
And they know, as we should, that the deaths of every innocent mother, brother, aunt, uncle and child will fuel a new generation of jihadists.
They may not take the name of ISIL, but let us remember that ISIL did not exist when we were bombing Al-Qaeda.
Mr Speaker, with no clear long-term strategy, with a certainty that air strikes will drive thousands more into the arms of ISIS, with no obvious allies on the ground in Syria, with a very real risk of walking into a terrorist trap, I do not see how I can possibly support this motion.