Summary of reasons for my vote on extending airstrikes to target Da’esh/ISIS within Syria

Many constituents have been in touch about my vote in the House of Commons on extending airstrikes to target Da’esh/ISIS-occupied territory within Syria. This is a summary of my reasons for the way I voted, but if any constituents would like a fuller response, or have detailed questions, then please email me if you haven’t already done so.

The motion to authorise this action was carried by an overwhelming majority (397-223) on a free vote for Labour MPs – and I voted in favour. Authorising military action is not a decision I, or any MP takes lightly. I am aware of the strength of feeling on this issue and the many different points of view. I am only too aware of the consequences of war and conflict – having spent my career prior to Parliament working for international humanitarian agencies, the Department for International Development, having visited Helmand in Afghanistan in 2009 and having had a significant amount of personal contact with our armed forces – including some of the RAF pilots who will fly these missions.

Since I was elected to Parliament I have voted on these matters twice before. I voted AGAINST a much wider proposal for military action against the Assad regime in Syria in 2013, where I did not think the case was made. I voted in FAVOUR of taking action against Da’esh / ISIS in northern Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government in 2014, where I did.

My views on military action and intervention are nuanced and careful. I think our intervention in Iraq in 2003 was a grave mistake; our intervention in Afghanistan, whilst justified, had serious mistakes in its delivery and subsequent operation; our intervention in Libya in 2012 whilst right in principle, had little planning for the aftermath. I thought we intervened far too late in Bosnia in the 1990s (and have personally seen the consequences directly of the Srebrenica massacre where thousands of Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Serb forces). We were right to intervene in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. And we as an international community should forever hang our heads in shame for failing to intervene in Rwanda in 1995 when over a million people died, largely as a result of our fears of intervening after the failure in Somalia in the early 1990s.

I have met survivors and those affected by war and conflict where we have both acted and not acted. I have been flown over and driven through hostile territory in Afghanistan to the frontline against the Taliban. Close members of my own family served in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. I have visited British forces training in Cyprus, Norway and Canada. And as a member of the Shadow Foreign Affairs team I think about these issues every day.

In Parliament, I have had the privilege of direct briefings and discussions with the Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, Development Secretary, Foreign Secretary, the National Security Adviser, the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff and many other senior officials and armed forces representatives. I have also spoken personally to the Home and Defence Secretaries on issues relating specifically to Cardiff and individuals who have travelled from here to fight for Da’esh / ISIS, the threat we face locally, on a number of occasions.

There was no “rush to war” as some have suggested. These matters have been discussed over many months, and particularly since circumstances changed after major Da’esh / ISIS attacks in Paris, Beirut, Ankara and in destroying a passenger jet owned by Russia killing hundreds of innocent civilians (let alone their brutal attacks in the territory they control against civilians), as well as the passing of a crucial UN resolution and progress in the peace talks.

There have been many myths circulated about the vote – I am clear that we were being asked last Wednesday to support the extension of an existing operation against a barbarous terrorist organisation that directly threatens the UK and has killed civilians in its own territory and abroad.

There were no proposals to “carpet bomb civilians” as some suggested. In fact the UK precision capabilities have resulted in zero civilian casualties in over 14 months in Iraq. The government recognises this is part of a much wider strategy to tackle the finances and supply lines of Da’esh / ISIS. And in stark comparison to the 2003 Iraq intervention, or the 2013 proposals to attack Assad’s forces, this is not only fully in line with international law, but we have actually been requested by the United Nations and regional allies to act.

I was convinced to vote in favour, despite some significant doubts about the detail of aspects of the government strategy e.g. on ground troops, and the hopes for the peace talks.

This was for the following reasons:

1)    Dae’sh / ISIS pose a direct threat to international peace and security, including this country. We should be in no doubt about the danger we and Syrian and Iraqi civilians face from Da’esh / ISIS.

2)    A specific, unanimous and unambiguous United Nations Security Council Resolution has asked us to take “all necessary measures…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”. A so-called ‘Chapter VII’ resolution is not required. In addition we have the lawful right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

3)    Our allies, including the Socialist Government of France, but also regional players have asked for our specific support. We are part of a coalition of over 60 nations, including the UAE, Jordan and others, working to take military action and to cut off the flow of finance, fighters and weapons. And for the first time Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia are engaged in the political process.

4)    There is a peace process in Vienna which is finally making important progress to end the Syrian civil war that has provided the vacuum which Da’esh / ISIS have been able to fill. I am clear that this must move forward rapidly and comprehensively although many risks of failure remain.

5)    The European Union and the UK are doing a huge amount to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees and those directly affected in the region. I think we should take many more refugees from Syria here in the UK though than currently proposed, provided strict security checks are in place

Let me also respond to some other key points:

Do airstrikes achieve anything? I believe the answer is yes. They have helped the Kurds resist Da’esh attempts to take Kobane. In Iraq, they helped them retake Sinjar and break key supply routes.

What about ground troops? I believe this is one of the areas where the government needs most scrutiny, and where I had most doubts. I have to be honest though that the circumstances may never be perfect, and so my fears about the immediate threat they pose outweighed this. There are plans to build new alliances, and I will keep close scrutiny on this issue.

What about civilian casualties? This weighs on my mind heavily, and is why I personally raised it with the Prime Minister in the Commons, and in private with the Defence Secretary and others. There is never zero risk to civilians, but I am reassured to the extent I can be, about the extremely strict rules of engagement the UK uses.

What about community relations in the UK? I know the Muslim community here in Cardiff and Penarth utterly condemns Da’esh / ISIS. I will continue, as I have done, to work closely with and defend the Muslim community from racism, attacks and misrepresentation of the Islamic faith and stand up for the mainstream of the community in Parliament and locally.

Ultimately I believe the first responsibility of government and the opposition is to defend the national interest, and meet our international obligations. This proposal I believe met both criteria clearly, as well as other criteria I always use in terms of just cause, legality, proportionality and prospects of success.

Therefore, and very conscious of the risks to both civilians and our own forces I voted in favour. You may not agree with my position, and many of my closest friends in Parliament did not, while others did. I respect their view, and I understand it – including the position of my leader Jeremy Corbyn. These issues go well above internal party politics, and cross party political lines.

They are incredibly difficult choices but we do have to choose, and that is why we are sent to Parliament. We are not personal delegates, nor can we hold a full local referendum before every critical vote. We have to take into account constituent views, national views in scientific public polls, party views, expert views and our own consciences in making our decisions. Not just one – but all of those.

I will continue to closely scrutinise the action I have voted for – that is my duty, and my responsibility having supported it.

 

 

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