We know that no parliament ever takes a more serious decision than what we should do to protect the security and safety of our nation, and whether to put our forces in harms way. I know that every member of the House will be weighing that decision very seriously not least because the truth is we have got those decisions wrong before when we went into Iraq in 2003, and when we failed to intervene in Bosnia early enough a decade before that.
And so since the Prime Minister made his case last Thursday, I have sought for a series of assurances. Some of which I have received, some of which I have not. And I do not believe that the Prime Minister has made the most effective case, and so I understand why many in this House feel that they are not yet convinced. But I also feel that I cannot say that the coalition airstrikes that are underway already – in both in Syria and Iraq – should somehow stop. And if they are not to stop and France has asked for our help I do not think that we can say no.
So I think there are changes that need to be made to the government’s approach and I will argue for them. And I think there are more limits on the approach they need to take, but I will also vote with the Government on this motion tonight, even though I recognise how difficult that is for so many of us.
The whole House I think agrees that we need a strategy that delivers peace and defeats Isil/Daesh, but I disagree with any suggestion that this can be done as Isil first or Daesh first. Because I think that will simply not work. In the end we know that it is the Vienna process, that it is the process which is to replace the Assad regime – which is dropping barrel bombs on so many innocent people across Syria – which is crucial for preventing the recruitment of Isil as well.
And if we or the coalition are to seen to be siding with Assad or strengthening him that will increase recruitment for Daesh as well.
I also disagree with the suggestion that somehow there are 70,000 troops who are going to step in and that the purpose of these air strikes is to provide air cover for these troops to take on and defeat Daesh because we know that’s not going to happen any time soon, we know there aren’t such forces anywhere near Raqqa and these forces are divided.
We know that the airstrikes won’t be part of an imminent decisive military campaign. But I also disagree with those who say that instead of Isil first we should somehow have Vienna first and we should therefore wait until the peace process is completed before we take airstrike action against Daesh.
And that’s why I think the coalition airstrikes are still needed. We know that Isil is not going to be part of the peace process, they won’t negotiate, and they are a death cult that glorifies suicide and slaughter.
And we know too that they have continuous ambitions to expand, and continuous ambitions to attack us, our allies, and to have terror threats not just in Paris, not just in Tunisia, but all over the world and anywhere that they get the chance.
They hold oil, territory, communications that they want to use to expand, and I don’t think that the coalition can simply stand back and give them free reign while we work on that vital peace process.
When coalition airstrikes are already in place involving France, Turkey, Jordan, the US, Morocco, Bahrain, Australia – if we have evidence that there are communication networks that are being used in order to plan attacks in Paris, or Berlin, Brussels or London – can we really say that those coalition airstrikes should not take place to take those communication networks out?
If we have evidence that there are supply routes being used to plan an expansion to take over more territory, to increase their barbaric regime into wider spaces do we really think that coalition airstrikes should not be able to take those supply routes out?
And if we think that the coalition airstrikes should continue can we really say no, when France having gone through the terrible ordeal of Paris say they want our help in continuing those airstrikes now?
I have argued in this place and elsewhere continually for our country to do far more to share in the international support for refugees that are fleeing the conflict. I still think that we should do much more and not leave it to other countries alone. But that same argument about sanctuary also applies to security. And I don’t think we can leave it to other countries to take the strain.
I cannot ignore the advice of security experts that without coalition airstrikes over the next twelve months the threat from Daesh in the region but also in Europe and in Britain will be much greater. And I think we have to do our bit to try and contain that threat, not to promise that we can defeat or overthrow it in the short term because we cannot, but at least to contain what they do.
I also think it’s important to degrade their capacity to obliterate the remaining moderate and opposition forces however big they are because when Vienna does get properly moving there has to be some opposition forces, it cannot simply be a peace debate involving Assad and Daesh as the only forces left standing because that will never bring peace and security to the region.
So if we are to do our bit and to take the strain I think we also need to have more limited objectives than the Prime Minister has set out.
In self-defence, to support the peace process, but not just to create a vacuum for Assad to sweep into.
It makes the imperative of avoiding civilian casualties even greater, because where there is any risk that people are being used as human shields to cover targets however important those targets might be those airstrikes should not go ahead.
It makes the imperative of civilian protection even greater and that’s not mentioned in the government’s motion. It should be the central objective not just for humanitarian reasons to prevent an escalation of the refugee crisis but also to prevent the recruitment that fuels Isil.
And I think time limits are needed too because I don’t support an open ended commitment to airstrikes until Daesh are defeated as I know the Foreign Secretary raised yesterday. Because if it isn’t working in six months or if it proves counterproductive we should be ready to review and we should also be ready to withdraw.
Because we will need to review this and I think tonight we should lend the Government support and keep that under review- not give them an open ended commitment that this should carry on whatever the consequences might be.
And I would say finally to the Government that I have accepted their argument that if we want coalition airstrikes to continue on an international basis we should be part of that, but I would also urge them to accept my argument that we should be doing more to be part of supporting sanctuary for refugees who are fleeing that conflict too.
There are no easy answers here, but I would say in the interests of cohesion in our politics and our country the way we conduct this debate is immensely important. None of us however we vote tonight are terrorist sympathisers, and none of us will have blood on our hands. The blood has been drawn by Isil / Daesh in Paris and across the world and that is who we must stand against.