Friday, December 04, 2015

Hilary Benn speech

It would take me quite a long time to write a blog post about the decision to extend UKs involvement in the coalition of nations who are coming together to crush the evil that is Daesh. And there seemed not much point when I could just post the speech made by Hilary Benn MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary. He said much what I'd like to gave said. Admittedly, he spoke with oratorical flourishes that I would not have risen to. And I did not include the initial party political knockabout. But generally, I agreed with the content. Here it is;

 "Now Mr Speaker, we have had an intense and impassioned debate and rightly so, given the clear and present threat from Daesh, the gravity of the decision that rests upon the shoulders and the conscience of every single one of us and the lives we hold in our hands tonight. And whatever decision we reach, I hope we will treat one another with respect.

The question which confronts us in a very, very complex conflict is at its heart very simple. What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the yoke, the cruel yoke, of Daesh? The carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we face from them. It could have just as easily been London, or Glasgow, or Leeds or Birmingham and it could still be. And I believe that we have a moral and a practical duty to extend the action we are already taking in Iraq to Syria. And I am also clear, and I say this to my colleagues, that the conditions set out in the emergency resolution passed at the Labour party conference in September have been met.

We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Daesh, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.

So the United Nations is asking us to do something. It is asking us to do something now. It is asking us to act in Syria as well as in Iraq. And it was a Labour government that helped to found the United Nations at the end of the Second World War. And why did we do so? Because we wanted the nations of the world, working together, to deal with threats to international peace and security – and Daesh is unquestionably that.

So given that the United Nations has passed this resolution, given that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – because every state has the right to defend itself – why would we not uphold the settled will of the United Nations, particularly when there is such support from within the region including from Iraq. We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries, standing together shoulder-to-shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.

Now Mr Speaker, all of us understand the importance of bringing an end to the Syrian civil war and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. They are the best hope we have of achieving a cease-fire. That would bring an end to Assad’s bombing, leading to a transitional government and elections. And why is that vital? Both because it will help in the defeat of Daesh, and because it would enable millions of Syrians, who have been forced to flee, to do what every refugee dreams of: they just want to be able to go home.

Now Mr Speaker, no-one in this debate doubts the deadly serious threat we face from Daesh and what they do, although sometimes we find it hard to live with the reality. We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.

We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc. 130 people in Paris including those young people in the Bataclan whom Daesh – in trying to justify their bloody slaughter – called ‘apostates engaged in prostitution and vice’. If it had happened here, they could have been our children. And we know that they are plotting more attacks.

So the question for each of us – and for our national security – is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility? And if we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much – including Iraq and our ally, France.
Now, France wants us to stand with them and President Hollande – the leader of our sister socialist party – has asked for our assistance and help. And as we are undertaking airstrikes in Iraq where Daesh’s hold has been reduced and we are already doing everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria – should we not play our full part?

It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq. The House will remember that, 14 months ago, people were saying: ‘they are almost at the gates of Baghdad’. And that is why we voted to respond to the Iraqi government’s request for help to defeat them. Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobani. Now of course, air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh – but they make a difference. Because they are giving them a hard time – and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.

Now, I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh – who target innocent people.

Now on the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there’s been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the government must, I think, better explain that. But we know that most of them are currently engaged in fighting President Assad. But I’ll tell you what else we know, is whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number. And so to suggest, Mr Speaker, that airstrikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war has come to an end is, I think, to miss the urgency of the terrorist threat that Daesh poses to us and others, and I think misunderstands the nature and objectives of the extension to airstrikes that is being proposed. And of course we should take action. It is not a contradiction between the two to cut off Daesh’s support in the form of money and fighters and weapons, and of course we should give humanitarian aid, and of course we should offer shelter to more refugees including in this country and yes we should commit to play our full part in helping to rebuild Syria when the war is over.

Now I accept that there are legitimate arguments, and we have heard them in the debate, for not taking this form of action now. And it is also clear that many members have wrestled, and who knows, in the time that is left, may still be wrestling, with what the right thing to do is. But I say the threat is now, and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces. Now we heard very powerful testimony from the honorable member for Eddisbury earlier when she quoted that passage, and I just want to read what Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan regional government high representative in London, said last week and I quote: ‘Last June, Daesh captured one third of Iraq over night and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan region. Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France, and the actions of our own Peshmerga, saved us. We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We’ve pushed them back, and recently captured Sinjar. Again, Western airstrikes were vital. But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.’ And that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one, if we are serious about defeating Daesh.

Now Mr Speaker, I hope the house will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues on this side of the House. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have – and we never should – walk by on the other side of the road.

And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight."

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Action by UK forces against Da'esh in Syria

Here is the column I wrote for Powys County Times this week. 

write this column after listening to the Prime Minister outline his reasons for believing it right that UK armed forces, which are already operating successfully in Iraq, should extend activities across the border into Syria, alongside the armed forces of France, United States, Turkey and Russia against the terrorist group, Da'esh. Deciding finally to support the Prime Minister was difficult. Like all MPs, I considered the position very carefully. I know there can be no certainty about the future in this complex unstable theatre of war. My decision was reached with a heavy heart and much uncertainty.

Committing our armed forces to military action is an issue that transcends party politics. It's an even more difficult decision when there are rational, persuasive, conflicting arguments as there are in this case. It is not possible to be certain about the outcome of our actions, no matter what we do. For most MPs it will come down to 'on balance' opinions. We do know that the Prime Minister would not have called a vote without significant cross party support. After much consideration, many Labour MPs decided to support the Prime Minister, as did the Liberal Democrat and DUP MPs. On balance, I believe they are right to do so.

What Britain faces is a terrorist group, Da'esh, committed to launching terrorist attacks on innocent people going about their normal lives. This murderous ideology has spawned the most brutal of attacks across the world. All of us have been shocked by attacks in Tunisia and Paris, as well as in the Middle East. In 2015, our security forces tell us that several terrorist plots have been frustrated in the UK. Britain is deemed to have been the highest category target for many years. We are already at war with Da'esh in Iraq. The Paris terrorist atrocity could very easily have been in London, Birmingham, Cardiff or Edinburgh. We are under attack and it's only the skill and vigilance of our security forces that keep us safe. 

Many constituents have contacted me opposed to British involvement. Their opposition is based on not being involved in the war against Da'esh, which logically means withdrawal from the military action in Iraq. Other constituents have contacted me in support of military action against Da'esh. However, almost all believe Da'esh should be challenged in some way and defeated.  This does raise a question of morality. The UK is a target, and want the Da'esh threat removed. Can it possibly it be right to 'outsource' action to our friends in France, US and Turkey? If we think it is right to act militarily against Da'esh, Britain cannot leave the responsibility to others. Presidents Obama and Hollande want our help. They need our help. This is the aspect of the debate which most influences me.

Inevitably there are serious uncertainties. It is accepted that Da'esh can only be defeated if there are armed forces on the ground. These cannot be forces from non-Muslim countries, because that would act as recruitment to Muslims becoming radicalised. It's also the case that while there are 70,000 potential recruits for a Syrian-based defence force, Syrian fighters against Da'esh are scattered throughout Syria and have differing ethnic backgrounds and differing objectives. Assembling effective locally based ground forces will be difficult. It's also vital and expensive to put in place restructuring and humanitarian programmes. Inevitably, there is concern about how intervention will end. But when the division bells rings, MPs have to decide. There is no hiding place. After much consideration, I decided to support the Prime Minister.

Reflections on Paris Terrorism Attack

Here is the column I wrote for Oswestry and Border Chronicle two weeks ago. Did not have time to update my blog until now. 

As writing my column this week, I can only reflect on the terrible events of the last few days in Paris. Readers of the Chronicle will share my overwhelming sense of shock and horror at the scale and brutality of the terrorist attacks. Over 130 innocent people, out in the city for an evening's enjoyment, murdered by cold blooded killers. The people of Britain have shown huge sympathy for France as she responds to the terrible events that have taken place.
These terrorist attacks in Paris have brought home to us in the UK how instability in the Middle East has an impact on our safety at home. It's but a few years since we had a bomb outrage in London where many innocent people were killed as travelling on public transport in the city. And we are told there have been several terrorism plots targeting the UK which have been frustrated by our security forces over the last year. What has happened in Paris, and recently in Tunisia reminds us of the threats and that first duty of any Government is to protect the people from outside attack.

Inevitably, there will now be debate about how we respond to these threats. I will touch on two issues which MPs will be deciding very shortly. Firstly will be the capability we allow our security forces to access communications data. There is a proper concern that it's not 'British' to allow unnecessary surveillance, but surely it's no longer safe to allow the criminals and terrorists a free hand to operate by modern communication methods which shackling those charged with the responsibility to defend and protect us. Montgomeryshire has an interest in this debate. The most high profile campaign for more effective surveillance is Lord Carlile, my former neighbour and presseccor as the local MP. Despite being instinctively 'libertarian' I am with Alex on this.

The second important decision before MPs is whether we should become more engaged with cutting off the poison of terrorism at source. Much of the world will come together to destroy Daesh, an evil force which refers to itself as an ‘Islamic State’. It's not a 'State', and I will not refer to it as such. At present the Prime Minister is considering asking MPs to consider joining the air attacks on Daesh forces in Syria, where it has its base. I expect him to come to the House of Commons before Christmas asking MPs to join other countries in acting to rid the world of the evil we witnessed in Paris over the last few days. Even though it's no more than an extention of current military action, across a line in the sand, that Daesh does not recognise, it will be an important debate.