Kurdish Peshmerga fighters monitor the area from their front line position in Bashiqa, north-east of Mosul on August 12, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Will the UK follow France and arm the Kurds?

One of the questions facing David Cameron as he returns from his holiday. 

In a fine demonstration of his party's internationalist principles, François Hollande has announced that France will supply arms to the Kurds to support their fight against Isis. The statement issued by his office said: "To meet the urgent needs voiced by the Kurdish regional authorities, the head of state decided in liaison with Baghdad to ship arms in the coming hours." It is support that the brave but under-supplied Peshmerga ("those who confront death") badly need.

Hollande's announcement has coincided with the return of David Cameron, who has cut short his holiday in Portugal by a day and will chair a meeting a Cobra today at 1pm. One question that will likely be on the agenda is whether Britain will follow France in arming the Kurds. At present, support is limited to flying military equipment on behalf of Jordan to the regional government. 

Hemen Hawrami, the Presidential Adviser for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Leadership Council, has made it clear that much more is needed. Asked if he wanted military support from Britain, he told ITV News: "Absolutely. We don’t need troops on the ground. We need advisers. We need aerial support and we need armament of peshmergas. Because IS by taking over most of the weaponries of five divisions of Maliki’s army, they are outgunning Peshmerga forces by modern armoured vehicles they have, by the different machines they have. What exactly we need is anti-tank missiles and armoured piercing weapons system in order to defeat them on the battlefields."

Strikingly, he warned that a failure to defeat Isis could lead to terrorist attacks in Britain: "According to your Home Office, you have 500 passport holders within IS right now so they are not only a threat to Kurdistan but also a threat coming back to Britain and the EU. Kurdistan is the first defence line for Britain if they want to fight and they do want to fight for IS. We do believe it’s the right time right now for Britain to join the US in airstrikes. It’s like the time of what Britain did in 1981 when John Major saw the mass exodus of the Kurdish people, there is a mass exodus now of Yazidis and Christians. I think this is the right time again for Britain to intervene."

The moral and strategic case for arming the Kurds is clear, but it will be far harder for Cameron to justify not recalling parliament (something he is keen to avoid after last summer's Syria debacle) if direct support is provided.

Today's Guardian reported that the government may avoid arming them since "[this] may be a step too far for the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition". When I asked a Lib Dem spokesman about this claim, he told me: "The government's position is we're not offering military assistance at the moment, we're doing the heavy lifting on the humanitarian side". He added that he would not start "speculating" on other possible options. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.