|Halton MP Derek Twigg, after careful consideration of the case put by the Government for extended military action in Syria including airstrikes, voted against the Government motion.
Derek said “This was a very difficult issue which has divided opinion in the country and in my constituency. I am clear that there is a strong case for taking further military action both to protect our country and support our Allies, especially after the atrocities we have witnessed in Tunisia and Paris, and the continuing threats we face from Islamic terrorists in the UK.
It is my strong view that to have the best chance to push back and ultimately defeat ISIL, airstrikes should be part of an overall strategy that has a good chance of succeeding. I do not wish to see our involvement in Syria and the Middle East developed in a piecemeal way rather than through sound plan of military, political and humanitarian actions.
As I said in my speech in the House of Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister must come back with a better plan.”
I attach a copy of my speech made in the House which broadly sets out my reasons for voting against the Government motion last night.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): There is a group of us on the Labour Benches who are caught between two points: we are not opposed to taking action—indeed, we want to take action—but we do not feel that the strategy is in place.
We are making a decision today based not just on airstrikes, but on an overall strategy. Let me say from the outset that I am under no illusion that there is a perfect strategy, given the complex circumstances of the civil war and insurgency in Syria. There is no certainty in the middle east. We all want to protect our citizens and reduce the threat of Daesh, but I am afraid that a few more airstrikes will not do that. Some of its actions may not even be planned from Syria. We lack an overall strategy to confront ISIS/Daesh, which is established in other countries such as Libya. I want to make it clear again that I am not opposed to military action, but I will support it only if I believe that there is a reasonable chance of success.
I do not believe the argument that bombing Daesh in Syria will somehow greatly increase the chances of a terrorist attack in the UK, nor the argument that the Government are proposing the indiscriminate bombing of Syrians. Those arguments are both wrong.
I understand the argument that we are currently restricted to Iraq, but we were clearly invited into that country by an elected Government and we have forces on the ground. That is not the situation in Syria, which is much more uncertain and complex. We do not have the ground forces in Syria that I believe we should have.
Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman and I visited Iraq together last year. The fact of the matter is that the Iraqi army is totally destroyed. There were no ground forces in Iraq, leaving aside the peshmerga, any more than there are ground forces in Syria.
Derek Twigg: I do not think we can leave aside the peshmerga. The hon. Gentleman may also recall that the Sunnis need arming in Iraq. The Prime Minister keeps agreeing to do that and saying that it is the right thing to do, but we never hear what happens about it. There is therefore a lot more that we could be doing in Iraq. The fact is that there are armed forces that we support, whether the peshmerga or the Iraqi army, on the ground in Iraq when we carry out airstrikes. That is the difference with Syria.
The Prime Minister says that it is important that we stand by our allies. That argument has been stressed to me by some of my colleagues who support the Government’s position. It is a strong point. My response is that doing the right thing must be the primary reason for our decision. Does the strategy proposed by the Government add up? After all, the French, who are an important ally, did not support our decision to go into Iraq. That was a perfectly reasonable position for them to take because they did not think it was the right thing to do. That comes back to my point that we must do the right thing. It is also said that we should not rely on our allies to bomb Syria, but it is not as if we are doing nothing. As I have said, we are doing a lot in Iraq.
On the issue of whether there are 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground, we know that a large number of those groups are less than moderate and
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more Islamic, as the Foreign Secretary said yesterday. There remains considerable uncertainty about how reliable they will be in the fight and what they might bring to any peace negotiations or future Government. Many of the moderates are simply fleeing Syria.
The Prime Minister, in his speech last week, set out the progress of the coalition’s actions in Syria. I welcome the fact that there has been progress. There was also progress at the International Syria Support Group meeting in Vienna. The pathway leading to elections, which the Prime Minister set out, is not tied down. It still leaves the question of what to do about Assad.
The Prime Minister’s memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee stated that there were “differences to resolve”. Yesterday, I asked the Foreign Secretary what those differences were. By way of example, he said that the Russians want to shore up the Assad regime to take on Daesh. That is a pretty big difference from where we are.
Finally, I come to the issue of ground troops, which some opponents of military action will use as cover for not doing anything. That is certainly not my position. I have been consistent on this matter from the start. It is a major stumbling block to my support for the motion. We should look at the example of Iraq, where a concerted campaign against al-Qaeda using drones and US and UK special forces had considerable success. However, that also involved a surge of tens of thousands of American troops on the ground.
The Government have said that ground troops will be needed, but they do not say when and have ruled out the use of British ground troops. It appears wrong to embark on this strategy without having any ground troops or a coherent explanation of when there will be some, who they will be or how many there will be. What assessment have the Government made of the number of ground troops that will be needed and what other military assets will be needed?
It gets more complicated, because the Government say that there is no military solution and that only a political solution will stop the civil war in Syria. What if Assad refuses to go? Is that realistic? I do not believe that we can have one without the other. I am clear that the UN needs to agree to put a huge coalition force in the hundreds of thousands into Syria to stop the civil war and maintain safe areas, while at the same time putting in place a political strategy that is achievable. Preferably, as many Muslim countries as possible should send in their soldiers. A firm deal with Russia and Iran will be needed.
The Government have not convinced me that there is a wider strategy or that this action has a reasonable chance of success. Instead, I think we will have to gradually up our involvement in a piecemeal way and that we will find ourselves in a much more complex situation even than Iraq. I disagree with those in the Government who argue that we would somehow make ourselves less secure by not taking such action. I would support action if I felt that it was feasible and deliverable. At the same time, the Government have cut our armed forces and our police force, which are important in maintaining our ssecurity.
I believe that ISIL/Daesh needs to be confronted. It must be defeated ideologically and militarily. It is therefore essential to our security and that of the middle east that
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the Prime Minister comes forward with a strategy that has a reasonable chance of success. He has not done so today and he must come back with a better plan