Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Bombing Syria"

When discussing the Syrian refugee tragedy over the last few days, I quite often hear the comment "Well you voted to bomb Syria" - as if it was linked to the refugee crisis. Reality is that British involvement in the Syrian conflict has been entirely positive in reducing the refugee problem. And as a point of fact, no MP voted to "Bomb Syria". Let us consider what has actually happened, rather than what is said to have happened.

In late summer 2013 MPs were recalled in the summer recess to debate whether the UK should respond militarily to the use of poison gas against his own people by Syrian leader, President Bashar al-Assad. It was widely thought we were going to be asked to give authority to bomb Damascus. At the time I asked as many constituents as I could reach what they thought before deciding on my approach. On the Monday, I travelled to Westminster expecting to vote against my Govt for the first time. This issue was more important than party loyalty (which I also think is very important). I could not see how firing rockets into Damascus would improve the tragedy that was unfolding in Syria. In the event several other MPs must have taken the same view, because when the motion we were due to debate was made public the night before the debate, it did not give authority to make any military strike. It condemned Assad, spoke of an intention to launch military action, but crucially required another vote of MPs to give authority for action after a stronger case for it was made. It specifically did not give authority for military action. In my view, and shamefully, Ed Miliband decided to put forward an alternative motion which, in effect, said much the same thing in - dividing the House. In the event both amendment and motion were defeated. The Prime Minister announced immediately there he had received the message of the House and would be no strike against Damascus. At the time, I thought to end consideration of the issue to be a mistake, though it may be that time has shown it not to be. Though you never be certain about what might have been!

Since the summer of 2013, Daesh, an appalling murderous group of terrorists has prospered, taking over large parts of the Middle East, including Syria. Daesh is truly evil and must be defeated. (I refuse to use the term Islamic State, regarding it as an insult to Islamism). Daesh is a threat to the world, recognised by almost every country in the world - including Putin's Russia. And then year, MPs did vote (by a huge majority) to give authority to pursue Daesh into Syria, and play a part in defeating these terrorists by cutting off supplies to their front line. To describe the UK's military support as an "attack on Syria" is bizarre. The reality is that the UK decided to act militarily against the enemy of Syria. And with much success. Daesh has now retreated significantly, alongside effective involvement by Russian forces. 

Of course the conflict has not ended, and there remain uncertainties. Daesh are reported to be moving activities to North Africa. No doubt there will be other votes and much disagreement about best way forwards in the future. And no doubt there will be mistakes. The only point of this post is to paint an more accurate background to UK military involvement in Syria, and challenge the incorrect notion that MPs voted "to bomb Syria". 

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