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  1. Politics
2 December 2015updated 06 Aug 2021 2:38pm

“Inaction leads to death and destruction“: former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett’s Syria speech

Labour's former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett MP gave a much-praised speech in support of air strikes in Syria.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Here’s the speech former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett MP gave to parliament in favour of air strikes in Syria:

This debate centres on national security and on the safety of our constituents, and there’ll be differences of view within and between every party in this house. So in good faith and conscience, members will reach different conclusions.

Anybody who approaches today’s debate without the gravest doubts, reservations and anxieties simply hasn’t been paying attention. But we’re sent here by our constituents to exercise our best judgement, each our own best judgement.

This is a debate of contradictions. The terms of today’s motion echoing the UN resolution are stern – almost apocalyptic. The threat they describe as an unprecedented threat to international peace and security. But the proposal before us amounts only to a relatively minor extension of action we are already undertaking. We’re being asked to agree to act both in Iraq and Syria, precisely because that’s what Daesh do and their headquarters is in Syria. We’re being asked to make a further contribution to an existing international effort to contain Daesh from extending the mayhem and bloodshed that accompanies their every move even more widely across the Middle East.

Serious questions are being raised and I respect those who raise them. There is unease about ground forces, there is proper concern about the strategy and the endgame, and about the aftermath, about rebuilding. Some say simply that innocent people are more likely to be killed. Military action does create casualties, however much we try to minimise them. So should we on those grounds abandon action in Iraq, although we undertake it at the request of Iraq’s government, and it does seem to be making a difference? Should we take no further action against Daesh who are themselves killing innocent people, and striving to kill more ever day of the week? Or should we simply leave it to others?

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Would we make ourselves a bigger target for Daesh attack – we are a target. We will remain a target. There’s no need to wonder about it; Daesh has told us so, and continues to tell us so with every day that passes. We may as well take them not just at their word but indeed at their deeds. They have sought out our fellow countrymen and women to kill, including aidworkers and other innocents. And whatever we decide today there is no doubt that they will do so again.

Nor is the consequence of inaction simply Daesh controlling more territory, more land. We’ve seen what happens where they take control. The treatment of groups such as the Yazidis in all its horror should surely make us unwilling to contemplate any further extension of Daesh-controlled territory. Inaction too leads that way to death and destruction.

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Quite separately, there are those not opposed in principle to action, who doubt the efficacy to what is proposed – a coalition action which rests almost wholly on bombing, they say, will have little effect. Well, tell that to the Kosovans. And don’t forget that if there had been no bombing in Kosovo, perhaps a million Albanian Muslim refugees would have been seeking refuge in Europe. Tell that to the Kurds in Kobani, who, if memory serves, pleaded for international air support without which they felt they were losing control to Daesh. Tell them in Sierra Leone that military action should always be avoided because there would be casualties. Their state and their peace were almost destroyed, it was British military action that brought them back from the brink.

Of course it took place in conjunction with political and diplomatic activity, and I share the view that it is vital that such activity is substantially strengthened and I was heartened by what the Prime Minister told us today. Our conference did call for a United Nations resolution before further action and we now have a unanimous Security Council resolution. Moreover, that resolution calls on member states in explicit and unmistakable terms to combat Daesh’s threat, and I quote, “by all means”. And it calls to – again I quote – for us to “eradicate the safe haven they have established in Iraq and Syria”. Those are the words of the UN resolution.

And though it speaks of the need to pursue the peace process, the United Nations resolution calls on member states to act now.

Moreover, our French allies has explicitly asked us for such support, and I invite the House to consider how we would feel, and what we would say if what took place in Paris had happened in London – if we had explicitly asked France for support and France had refused.

These are genuinely extremely difficult as well as extremely serious decisions, but it is the urgings of the United Nations and of the socialist government in France that have for me been the tipping point in my decision to support military action.