I shall listen carefully to the debate in Parliament today about whether Britain should extend its current operation against ISIL in to Syria.  I write to set out my position as the debate starts.

The Muslim Council of Britain is right to point out this morning that “we are all united in wanting to destroy Daesh”.  ISIL/Daesh has slaughtered indiscriminately in the Middle East, murdered British tourists in Tunisia and carried out barbaric attacks in Paris.  It is necessary to act if they are to be stopped.  Many of my constituents – while agreeing about the importance of destroying ISIL – have contacted me to state that they nevertheless oppose bombing, as MCB does.

There is, however, a strong case that careful air strikes by British planes – along the lines of those being carried out by the RAF against ISIL in Iraq for the last fourteen months – can make an important contribution and would be justified.   

A unanimous resolution of the United Nations Security Council has called for action.  Resolution 2249 of 20 November describes ISIL/Daesh as “a global threat to international peace and security” and “calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures ... to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.”  Britain does have that capacity.  It would need a very good reason not to heed the call by the UN.  The Socialist President of France has also appealed for us to help.

For the last fourteen months, following the agreement of Parliament, British air strikes have been undertaken against ISIL targets in Iraq.  They seem to have been effective.  Crucially, throughout that period, there appear to have been no reports of any civilian casualties.  Some of those who have opposed bombing have been under the impression that a wider campaign of bombing was proposed; in fact, the motion being debated in Parliament today is limited and would only permit action “exclusively against ISIL”.  

This action alone would not solve the problem.  We need in addition to do all we can to work for a successful outcome of the peace talks in Vienna, which do now at last hold out a glimmer of hope for a wider peace settlement in Syria.  Efforts to block funding to ISIL need to be redoubled.  

But, alongside these initiatives, there are telling arguments in favour of direct UK intervention.  

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AuthorStephen Timms