Syria- Stop the War march, London, 31 August 2013, Chris Beckett

Stop the War march, London, 31 August 2013, Credit: Chris Beckett

David Cameron has called for a one-day debate and vote on whether to extend RAF air strike from Iraq to Syria. After much reflection and research, and after listening to the views of many people, including constituents, fellow members on both sides of the House and the Government, I have decided that I cannot support British military action in Syria at present and I will vote against any motion in this House that sanctions it tomorrow.

It is my view that the eradication of Daesh from Syria, Iraq and around the world is a necessary process and one in which the UK should be engaged, including through effective military action. I am not currently persuaded that it would be lawful for the Royal Air Force to bomb Syria, but I agree that that is arguable and it is not the principal reason for my opposing the proposed military action.

There are three tests that I do not believe the Government have passed and that the Prime Minister failed to satisfy in his statement to the Commons last week.

First, there is no tactical plan for taking control of the areas currently occupied by Daesh, should bombing be successful in dislodging them, which itself is questionable, given that the bombing of those areas by 11 other countries has continued over 15 months. There are insufficient numbers of competent, relevant or motivated ground troops who are sufficient to the task at present.

Secondly, there is no functioning international alliance that can turn short-term military games into a programme for the peaceful governance of Syria. The Vienna talks are a start to such a process, but at present the aims of Turkey, Russia, Iran and the NATO countries are so disparate as to be chaotic.

In addition to the lack of tactical and strategic bases, my third test is that the permanent defeat of Daesh in Syria requires the end of conflict, which is what allows it to thrive. Any short-term retrenchment will likely benefit the Assad regime, which is itself responsible for seven times as many civilian deaths as Daesh this year. That may mean a shift in the balance of forces, but it will bring us no nearer to resolution.

I want Britain to engage in a concerted diplomatic effort to wean Russia and Iran away from their support for Assad, and others in Turkey and Saudi Arabia away from giving comfort, if not actual support, to Islamist extremism. I want a peace process that allows non-extremist opposition to talk to the acceptable parts of the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish forces, and a concerted attempt to cut off the funds to, and other international support for, Daesh. That is a very difficult, perhaps impossible, agenda, but to engage in bombing missions on the basis of, ‘Something must be done’, or even on the basis of solidarity, and without clear objectives, does not show sound judgment.

There are other arguments for and against intervention, including that our contribution would be small, especially given the lack of military targets without the risk of civilian casualties; that we should support allies, whether they be the Iraqi or French Governments; and that we remain at risk from Daesh attacks on the UK, whether we take further military action against them or not.

However, the three points I have mentioned are my red lines. They are also, I am pleased to say, reflected by a ratio of 100:1 in the letters and emails I have received from my constituents in the past few days and weeks. I will, of course, review my decision in the light of changing events, but given the UK’s poor record of intervention in the Middle East over the past decade, I think that further military incursion should be approved only if a high burden of proof can be established.


Profile photo of Andy Slaughter About Andy Slaughter
Andy Slaughter MP is the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Justice Minister

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  • Christopher Lennon December 1, 2015 9:29 am

    No, the main reason you are voting against bombing Daesh in Syria is to ingratiate yourself with Jeremy Corbyn, in whose shadow cabinet you serve. As Mr Corbyn’s views are well outside the mainstream, you can expect to join him in electoral oblivion in due course.
    The UK is already involved in action against the death cult in Iraq. Areas cleared of Daesh there will revert to the control of the elected government. It makes sense to join with our allies, including the leader of the West and NATO, despised by your leader, in degrading Daesh in Syria as well. It would be unthinkable to leave our French friends, to name just one other, and after what happened in Paris, to carry out the task for us. It is true we cannot be sure who will eventually emerge on top in Syria, but either the moderate rebels, or, in the short term at least, the Assad regime, would be better than the evil, murdering, raping, desecrating Daesh.

  • ObiterJ December 1, 2015 9:43 am

    The legality question was discussed by the Foreign Affairs Committee and they received respectable evidence that UN Charter Art 51 is a sound basis given that the Assad government is either unwilling or (more likely) unable to deal with ISIL on the ground in Syria.

    The vote in the Commons may not be as simple as “Does the RAF bomb in Syria – Yes or No.” The government has said that the vote will be about a package of measures. There is no doubt that a great deal more needs to be done to deal with supplies to ISIL of money, oil, arms and other supplies.

    Will bombing be effective? It could be in some circumstances but it will have to be carefully targeted and everything possible done to limit it to strictly military targets. Therein is the problem. Killing large numbers of civilians -(“collateral damage” as they often like to put it) – will only hand ISIL a propaganda coup and could lead to greater terrorist recruitment.

    The idea of extending bombing to Syria seems to be more about the UK being seen to be a reliable partner in the alliance (such as it is)against ISIL.

    Another question is whether voting for bombing will actually result in the UK dropping numerous bombs straightaway. I don’t read the government’s strategy that way. They are seeking an authority to bomb if necessary and I expect that they would operate much as they already are doing in Iraq.

    This is a very difficult political / military question. The legality side seems to have been answered. In the face of the overall terrorist threat posed by ISIL it would seem to be better NOT to deny the government the tools it seeks to do the job along with other nations opposed to ISIL.

  • Martin Wright December 1, 2015 10:43 pm

    I agree; but we also need a plan for what we will do if we don’t bomb. Can’t we (with the help of liberal imams) use social media to persuade potential jihadis, and there may also be active ones who have doubts, which could be reinforced.

  • George Skelly December 2, 2015 3:37 am

    I would ask Mr Slaughter, what has Assad so wickedly done, as to compare with the proven atrocities by ISIS?
    Also, Britain, the US and France were invited by the government of Iraq to help to eradicate ISIS. They were not so invited by Syria.
    Therefore it constitutes an invasion of a sovereign state by The so-called Coalition. (of allegedly Democratic countries).
    Thirdly, Cameron’s fantasy 70,000 “Free Syrian Army”Ground troops is as blatant a lie as Tony Blair’s 45 minutes before Saddam Hussein was going to attack us. And I am amazed that people like Mr Slaughter, whom I believe is a Labour MP, is swallowing all this Zionist-generated garbage, at the expense of innocent lives in Syria which will inevitably result from Mr Cameron’s egotistical adventures as happened in his previous bombing raids on Libya, which is now a failed state.

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