Why I will be voting against airstrikes in Syria – Louise Haigh MP
The attacks in Paris and around the world have tragically demonstrated to us that we live in an increasingly insecure world where the threat posed to the UK is from actors who have an utter disregard for our common humanity. They are extremists whose methods are designed to ensure the maximum loss of innocent life.
That’s why in the wake of those despicable attacks, the Labour Party and I fully supported the decision by the Prime Minister to increase spending on the counter-terrorism budget.
The first and abiding priority of any government is to protect its citizens; and the extent to which Daesh and other extremists are prepared to go to ensure maximum loss of civilian life is unprecedented so it is right that we do what it takes to protect citizens and our national security.
Of equal importance is the enormous humanitarian aid the UK government is providing. I welcome the near £1.1bn the Government has committed to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and see it as a clear indication of the unshakeable cross-party commitment to humanitarian support for Syrians caught up in a conflict not of their making.
But as a result of the attacks in Paris the issue of military intervention in Syria has once again come to the forefront. It has been announced that Labour MPs will have a free vote on the issue and it is an incredibly difficult decision for colleagues to take and regardless of what individual MPs decide to do they should be treated with respect.
The questions foremost in my mind and ones I will consider below are this:
1. Will military intervention make us safer?
2. Is there a coherent and effective plan outlined by the Prime Minister, based on a political transition?
3. What impact will our intervention have on the region?
Firstly the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on 20th November calling on countries to 'take all necessary measures' and 'redouble and coordinate their efforts' against ISIL. I welcome this resolution and the prospect of international cooperation which it fosters, but I believe it does not explicitly authorise the use of force. Therefore the case outlined by the Prime Minister must be the basis on which we judge whether to intervene.
And I am not convinced there is a coherent and effective plan.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister outlined the Government’s “ISIL-first” case for war in the House of Commons predicated on utilising our military capabilities to degrade and destroy Daesh without the wider political agreement which the senior Foreign Affairs Select Committee outlined as an essential starting point for intervention.
The situation in Syria is a chaotic and complicated myriad of fighting forces whose alliances and aspirations are not at all clear and it has been complicated still further by the multiple international actors with conflicting strategic interests exacerbating and prolonging the already brutal conflict.
It would be essential therefore that any prelude to bombing is based on a clear political settlement otherwise there is a risk that the alliances at the beginning of British involvement in the conflict could very quickly disintegrate, making the destruction of Daesh difficult and the prospect of a resolution to the crisis all but impossible.
The Prime Minister takes a different view; he believes that bombing will help to bring about a transition by “strengthening the moderate opposition forces who must be part of a transition”.
I believe that position to be misguided.
I believe that because the motivations of those “moderate opposition forces”, which are made up of at least 110 separate groups are unclear – they want first and foremost to defeat Assad and secure their own territory not to assist coalition forces in the destruction of Daesh.
That is why when the United States spent $500m dollars to train 5,400 rebels to fight Daesh, they could find only 60.
Indeed, the same 70,000 “moderate opposition forces” the Prime Minister will rely on to help destroy Daesh are the forces which our ally in the fight against Daesh, Russia, launched a bombing campaign against in October. It is not at all clear why the “opposition forces” would shift their fury away from the Assad regime and onto Daesh at the behest of the United Kingdom.
And that only includes those labelled by the Government as “moderates” and does not include the some 30,000 fighters who dominate the opposition in Syria – Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar ash-Sham both avowedly Jihadist organisations who along with the al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra front will be strengthened on the same logic the Prime Minister uses for the moderates.
Therefore, far from accelerating a political transition it risks further entrenching the brutal and chaotic civil war. Indeed it was this utter chaos into which Daesh - a previously fringe extremist group formed as an offshoot from Al-Qaeda - expanded into a fighting force of almost 30,000 and claimed territory across Syria and Iraq.
That is why I am clear we need a roadmap to a political settlement, so we can ensure the regional stability which will suffocate Daesh.
Without that stability, we risk further regional chaos as a result of our action. Any policy to address the disaster in Syria must address the connectivity of Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Libya and the Arab states of the Gulf.
The Prime Minister said in his statement “we cannot defeat ISIL simply from their air or through military action alone. It requires a full political settlement”.
I agree with him, but I do not believe that he has adequately set out how bombing will bring about the political settlement needed to bring peace and stability to the region.
And I do not, therefore think that military action will make the UK or the region safer in the short, medium or long-term.
That is why I will be voting against airstrikes and against the case for war which the Prime Minister has made when it comes before the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Louise Haigh MP is the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Heeley and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister for Civil Service and Digital Reform