Aylesbury MP: Why I voted in favour of Syria air strikes

David Lidington MP (Conservative)
David Lidington MP (Conservative)

A large number of my constituents have been in touch about the parliamentary vote to approve military action against Daesh/ISIL in Syria and I thought you would appreciate hearing my thoughts.

I voted to support the motion proposed by the Prime Minister. As you will know, that motion was carried by 397 votes to 223. You can read the transcript of the debate here:.

The context for this vote was that Daesh poses a direct and continuing threat to the lives of British people and to Britain’s interests.

Already this year, we have seen terrorists inspired by Daesh murder British holiday makers in Tunisia, the worst terrorist attack on British citizens since 7/7.

Other British people have been murdered while being held hostage by Daesh.

The story could have been even worse. During the last 12 months, our police and intelligence services have disrupted no fewer than seven terrorist plots, either linked to or inspired by Daesh, on the United Kingdom itself. We have seen in Paris that Daesh glories in killing large numbers of people and that its militant supporters would rather kill themselves than face justice.

It is not an organisation that is interested in talks or negotiations.

Daesh grooms recruits, disseminates propaganda and organises and trains suicide bombers and gunmen from its so-called Islamic Caliphate, an area of territory that straddles the border between Iraq and Syria. The terrorists themselves do not recognise that border. Their headquarters is in Raqqah, within the internationally recognised territory of Syria.

It is clearly in the interests of our country and the safety of our own citizens to see Daesh utterly defeated. And while it is right for the British government and Parliament to think first about the interests of British people, we also need to recall that Daesh has murdered thousands of Muslims and slaughtered men, women and children from religious and ethnic minorities in both Iraq and Syria.

The question that I and other MPs faced was whether to extend Britain’s military action from Iraq into Syria would be right and effective in pursuit of that aim of the defeat and eradication of Daesh.

I am clear that the legal basis for such action is sound. Daesh is fighting to overthrow the legitimate, elected government of Iraq. Iraq, like every other state, has, under the United Nations Charter, a right of self-defence.

Iraq has asked us and other countries for help. We are already giving that help, in line with what Parliament has approved, through our participation in coalition air attacks on Daesh in Iraqi territory. Iraq’s right to defend itself (and seek help from others) also applies in respect of Syrian territory, such as Raqqah, that has been seized and occupied by Daesh and which is being used as a base from which to plan and organise attacks on Iraq.

More recently, the firm legal basis for military action in Syria was underpinned by UN Security Council Resolution 2249.

This resolution, passed unanimously by the Security Council, described Daesh as a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security. It went on to call on UN member states to take all necessary measures to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed by ISIL and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.

The next question is whether RAF attacks, as part of the coalition, in Syria would make a worthwhile difference to the coalition effort. In my view there is a moral element to this question, because it seems to me wrong, when we consider Daesh to be a serious threat to our own security, to say that we’ll leave it to others like France and the United States to attack Daesh inside Syrian territory, but there is also an important practical point. The United Kingdom has between a quarter and a third of the entire coalition’s precision bombing capability in the region and a quarter of its unmanned strike capability. The coalition has been less effective over Syria because of our non-participation. A detailed example, quoted by the Prime Minister during the debate, demonstrates this point well.

This was a recent incident in which Syrian opposition forces needed urgent support in their fight against Daesh. British Tornadoes were eight minutes away, just over the border in Iraq—no one else was close—but Britain could not help, so the Syrian opposition forces had to wait 40 minutes in a perilous situation while other coalition forces were scrambled. That sort of delay endangers the lives of those fighting Daesh on the ground, and does nothing for our reputation with our vital allies.

Alongside military action, we need a determined political strategy to try to bring an end to the vicious civil war in Syria and to bring about the emergence of a government capable of restoring national unity and recovering control of its own territory. That diplomatic work is going on. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has been among those leaders most involved in this effort. Recent talks in Vienna brought the United States, European and Arab countries, Iran and Russia together round the table to try to thrash out a common plan. Achieving that will not be easy. But we do now have all the right countries talking to each other and seeking a solution.

The Government also continues to be at the forefront of international work to help the 11 million people displaced by the fighting in Syria. So far, the United Kingdom has contributed more than £1.1 billion to humanitarian relief and has pledged another £1 billion to help with the reconstruction of Syria when a government of national unity emerges.

No-one in the Commons debate who spoke in support of the Government’s position argued that military action on its own would bring peace to Syria, but I do not believe either that we can wait for a political solution before taking action to degrade the capability of Daesh, to deny them the freedom to move around, to hold territory, to train their fighters and organise fresh murders.

In my view, the risks of inaction to our security and to the safety of British people are greater than those of action.

I believe that it was right to support military action in the vote on Wednesday.