The decision to send our brave armed forces to fight in a foreign country is one of the most difficult decisions an MP is asked to make. It is one which must be heavily weighed against consequences of military action for the civilian population.
As Wednesday’s debate demonstrated, there is a diverse range of sincerely held views across the House, each with merit and argued with passion and honour. It is essential that these views are respected, while recognising that there would be consequences whichever decision Parliament had reached.
The horrific attacks in Paris brought home the clear and present danger we face from Daesh. It could just as easily have been in a British city. We cannot, and must not, retreat to a position of isolation and self-preservation based on the fallacy that if we leave Daesh alone, they will leave us alone. Daesh have already murdered numerous innocent British citizens and British Intelligence has shown they are plotting attacks on the streets of the UK from their headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. Therefore, I firmly believe that there is a compelling case for the UK to participate in airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. This constitutes a matter of our national security and requires us to act in self-defence.
We must place the Government’s motion in the context of the UK’s current military intervention in the Middle East. The extension of airstrikes against Daesh to Syria is not a new conflict or war, but overcoming an impractical and illogical military handicap which means military action can be taken on the Iraqi side of the border, but not on the Syrian side, a border which Daesh does not even recognise. This means that the UK cannot take action in territory where we know that Daesh’s influence and resources are strong; where their headquarters are based; and where they plan attacks, operations and recruitment, both within the region and against British civilians at home.
I also believe that there is a robust legal case for the extension of military intervention. The UK now has a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council resolution which passed on 20th November 2015 which calls on member states to ‘take all necessary measures…to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL…and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria’. Furthermore, it is absolutely clear that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – the right to self-defence – to defend the UK and our allies, meaning intervention is both legal and just.
The shocking and sickening events in Paris, Tunisia, Beirut, Sinai and Ankara demonstrate the brutality and reach of Daesh, and reiterate the importance of standing with our allies. We must not and cannot delegate our international responsibilities to other nations, nor step back and allow others to shoulder the burden and risks of protecting our country. To do so would mean we not only let down our allies, but ourselves as a nation, diminishing our credibility in the international arena. When our allies, in particular France, are asking for our help and solidarity, I believe we have an obligation to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with them and others in opposition to Daesh’s poisonous ideology and brutality.
It is also critical to recognise the significant and welcome contribution which the UK can make to Coalition operations due to the UK’s extensive skills and technological capabilities. We possess military ordnance, particularly precision missile capabilities, which our allies do not. The Brimstone missile can be launched from an RAF jet and accurately strike moving targets, while limiting the threat to civilian life. Such is its capabilities that the Deputy Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gordon Messenger, recently informed the Defence Select Committee, of which I am a member, that as ‘the thresholds for approving the strikes are high and the skills sets are high...the UK has not had a civilian casualty incident after months of bombing’ in Iraq. Like you,
I am deeply concerned by the possibility of civilian casualties in Syria, a tragic inevitability in any conflict. The deployment of our unique and cutting-edge military capabilities however, will not only be a significant asset in suppressing the activities of Daesh, but enable us to do so in a way which limits civilian casualties.
As your MP, it was my responsibility to make the most difficult of decisions based on the information I had been presented by a diverse range of sources, including the Government, the Security Services, academics, foreign affairs and military specialists, charities and of course my constituents. In the last few weeks, over 100 of my constituents have contacted me by email, telephone and social media to express their views. I also discussed this issue at my monthly CLP meeting, where I explained why I was in favour of extending military intervention against Daesh into Syria, debating with and taking questions from members. The meeting concluded with a vote, where an overwhelming majority were in favour of my position. Therefore, while each email, each phone call, each meeting, briefing and discussion both in my constituency and in Westminster was taken into consideration, as your MP I must represent and act in the interests of all of my constituents, not just those who have contacted me. It was for this reason that I voted in favour of the Government’s motion to protect not only my constituents in Sedgefield, but British citizens across the UK from this aggressive, pernicious and barbaric threat. I appreciate that you may not agree with my decision, but hope you can respect that I did so to keep our country safe.
In a coalition of 60 nations, our military contribution may only be small and is not a complete answer in itself, but it is a start. It will provide us with valuable time to deploy a wider strategy to ensure that Daesh is eradicated and that Syria can transition to a peaceful, stable and democratic nation.