I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the important events and votes in Parliament last week concerning Syria. I want to assure you that I did not vote for military action in Syria.
There has been a great deal of confusion and misinformation surrounding the recall and vote on Syria in Parliament last Thursday, which has been badly misreported and oversimplified in the media, so I wanted to make sure that people knew exactly what had happened.
My view has always been that any intervention in Syria needs to be from the international community and not unilateral action by America, with or without the support of other countries including the UK.
While I have been deeply frustrated by the failure of the international community to persuade the Russians of the need to apply the necessary pressure on Assad, action without UN Security Council approval would, in my opinion, be counter-productive, providing the perfect opportunity for Assad to gain sympathy through anti-American (or anti-west) sentiment.
I was therefore disappointed to hear that the Prime Minister rushed to recall Parliament to gain parliamentary approval for action against the Syrian regime without approval from the Security Council in response to evidence of a chemical weapons attack on the 21st August, particularly when you consider that UN weapons inspectors were in Syria investigating the incident and had not completed their work.
In response to widespread political opposition from Liberal Democrats and some back-bench Conservatives and Labour MP’s, the motion to grant Parliamentary approval for military action was shelved, and instead an alternative motion was agreed, condemning the use of chemical weapons, not ruling out legal intervention, but making it clear that there would have to be a further vote in Parliament before there could be any UK involvement.
The Government’s intention was to ensure cross party support in condemnation of the chemical attack, but unfortunately the Labour Party, having originally agreed to support such a motion, then chose to submit an amendment.This amendment was almost identical to the Government motion, including not ruling out legal military intervention (see below). The Labour amendment was defeated, but the Government motion was also rejected.
I voted for the Government motion, (see in bold below) but I certainly would not have voted for it had it been a motion to commit the UK to military intervention.
That this House:
Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and, whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.
Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add
expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013;
believes that this was a moral outrage;
recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons;
makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law;
agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians;
supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met that:
(a) the UN weapons inspectors, upon the conclusion of their mission in the Eastern Ghutah, are given the necessary opportunity to make a report to the Security Council on the evidence and their findings, and confirmation by them that chemical weapons have been used in Syria;
(b) compelling evidence is produced that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons;
(c) the UN Security Council has considered and voted on this matter in the light of the reports of the weapons inspectors and the evidence submitted;
(d) there is a clear legal basis in international law for taking collective military action to protect the Syrian people on humanitarian grounds;
(e) such action must have regard to the potential consequences in the region, and must therefore be legal, proportionate, time-limited and have precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria; and
(f) the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action, and that any such vote should relate solely to efforts to deter the use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any wider action in Syria.’.
I attempted to speak in the debate, but unfortunately I failed to be called by the Speaker on this occasion, due to the sheer numbers of MPs who wanted to take part in the debate. I have reproduced what I had intended to say in the debate below, which is what I had already said to constituents and what I had said live on the radio.
I have also reproduced a copy of the motion (and the Labour amendment), which makes it abundantly clear that there would have to be a further vote in Parliament before any UK involvement in intervention in Syria.
Some people have questioned why I voted for the Government motion, when I have made my opposition to military action clear. Some MPs clearly did use the motion as an opportunity to highlight their anti-interventionist position. But that was not what we were voting on.
I voted for the motion to ensure that there was a vote in Parliament on whether the UK should be involved to allow MPs to make that decision. In fact, by the motion being defeated, under the Royal Prerogative, the Prime Minister could have subsequently committed the UK to taking part in military action, because Parliament had rejected the need for MPs to have a vote.
I remain committed to a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria, and I remain convinced that Russia holds the key to bringing this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, as I had hoped to say in my speech, we really must look at long term fundamental change in the structure of the Security Council – it cannot possibly be right that one or more voting members can veto an international solution to a crisis such as Syria, simply for their own strategic, economic and military benefit. This is the case, whether it be Russia and China or America and the UK.
Proposed speech to the Commons
Thank you Mr Speaker
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate today. Undoubtedly every MP will have received very many emails in the last couple of days and I am no different. I have received many messages and emails, with a wide range of opinions: most have expressed the view that there should be no intervention of any kind, while others have argued that intervention should only be supported with a United Nations resolution. Some have argued that we cannot allow the situation to continue and that there should be some level of intervention, military or otherwise to protect innocent civilians from further chemical attacks, regardless of the existence of a Security Council resolution in support of international action.
Some people have even questioned the validity of the claims that chemical weapons have been used, or which side has used them. Some have even compared comments about chemical weapons with the claims made before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes. This view is wide of the mark – the evidence of the use of chemical weapons is compelling, but we must wait to see the outcome of the UN inspection before making any decision on the use of force.
I had already made my position very clear that a decision on intervention should not be made until after the inspectors have had enough time to complete their inspection. I am therefore pleased that the motion this evening is not to commit the UK to military intervention, when we do not yet know what the inspectors will say, and that it commits the Government to a further vote in the House before there can be any direct British involvement.
While I have grave reservations about any military intervention, there is very little in the Government motion with which I could disagree – in fact if the words “as far as possible” and “the maximum”, in paragraph 7, in relation to United Nations involvement, were removed, I would have no concern about voting for the motion. It certainly does not endorse military action as some on the opposition benches have tried to claim, and if it did, I would have no hesitation in voting against it today.
The situation in Syria is very complex and I would caution against comparing the situation In Syria with Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya and Egypt. Personally I have not come to a definitive view on what action, if any, should be supported, but I believe that any action needs to be supported by a UN resolution. But herein lies the problem. Russia has made it abundantly clear that they will not, under any circumstances, back a United Nations Security Council Resolution. We need to face facts that the United Nations Security Council is completely dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. How have we allowed a situation to remain where one member or more of the Security Council can simply block the international community from protecting innocent civilians, both adults and children, from chemical weapons that are being used in breach international law?
We need to see fundamental change at the United Nations so that the appalling situation in Syria can never be repeated. We also need to recognise that so far the UN security council and the international community has failed the Syrian people. And we need to learn the lessons from other conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and recognise that even the best-intentioned action could make a terrible situation even worse. In my opinion any action that is taken to protect innocent civilians in Syria from further attacks can only be carried out by the international community, and not by the Americans with the support of the UK and France.