An open letter to Liberal Democrat MPs on Syria

Dear Tim and colleagues,

Have our five tests for bombing Syria been met ?

You have set out 5 conditions for Liberal Democrats to support action by the UK to bomb Syria.  When you meet at 5pm today you will decide if those conditions have been satisfied ?  Let’s take them one-by-one.


UN Resolution 2249  – OK, so we may go ahead and bomb Syria but what about the rest ?


What, if any, evidence of plans for a no-bomb zone ?  None that I have seen.   Anyway how can you have a no-bomb zone in Raqqa when innocent, terrorised and enslaved civilians provide a human shield for ISIL ?


What, if any, evidence of such pressure ?  As a country we have promoted arms sales to Saudi Arabia and we avoid any chance of offending its rulers, who will easily dismiss any so-called pressure.


The government is NOT absolutely clear on what Syria and Iraq will look like post-ISIL, NOR of any post-conflict strategy (including an exit strategy) they propose to give the best chance of avoiding a power vacuum.  There is no such strategy.


Has the government published its 2014 investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood ?

What if any investigation is there into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK ?

There is no sign of any increased of acceptance of Syrian refugees.

Only condition 1 on legality has been met, so we may bomb but that doesn’t mean we should.  The other four conditions remain manifestly unsatisfied.   How can we even consider bombing Syria in these circumstances ? What is the point of setting conditions if we then ignore them ?  Haven’t we at last learned what happens when we break our promises ? Surely it is clear that you must vote against bombing Syria ?

Yours sincerely and in hope,

David Grace

Chair of Liberal Democrats for Peace & Security

* David Grace is a Lib Dem living in Cambridge and a long standing campaigner for nuclear disarmament.

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  • Well said David. I hope Tim will remain true to his previous statements, and they won’t simply be further failed Lib Dem intentions.

  • Nick Coates 1st Dec '15 - 12:40pm

    I agree

  • I will be very proud of our MPs if we vote no to the Syria bombing. Our suite of questions is entirely fair, and this would also end up being another instance of us somehow acting as both the formal opposition and at least the second time we’ve out-Left’d Corbynite Labour in the past three months!

  • I think our position is fair and wise, requiring proper justification for action prior to commencement seems completely reasonable. Since that justification hasn’t been forthcoming, I don’t see how we can support action at this time.

  • I am baffled. We are already fighting ISIL, bombing and straffing etc in Iraq. So what is the issue? You would think we have not been involved.

  • Sandy Leslie 1st Dec '15 - 1:04pm

    I concur I hope our MP’s stick with the 5 conditions

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Dec '15 - 1:10pm

    Whatever Tim eventually says, he will have come to his decision from a humanitarian and liberal perspective. At this point, I am not persuaded of the case for war and my views have become more solidified in the last couple of days, but we need to listen to what he says.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Dec '15 - 1:12pm

    The only absolute in the motion is airstrikes. There are no specifics on the other points. If it had said, yes, we will take 3000 unaccompanied children like Save the Children want.

  • Gwyneth Deakins 1st Dec '15 - 1:39pm

    If our MPs vote for bombing I will really wonder if I am in the right party, more than anything that happened in the coalition.

  • We are bombing ISIS in Iraq. Can someone please explain the difference to bombing them in Syria. Simple language, no sophistry, please.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Dec '15 - 2:01pm

    The main issue is not whether Tim has met his five tests but whether bombing IS in Syria is the right thing. We know they are awful and dangerous so if we find a military target I don’t see why we need to take an absolutist position that we mustn’t bomb it because it is in Syria.

    I think us not getting involved would increase risk to civilians, not reduce it. We are already undertaking surveillance missions and have precision missiles that the US and France want us to use. What are we supposed to say? No, use your slightly less accurate missiles instead or leave the military hardware untouched so we can wash our hands of it?

    Some experts are saying “ground troops, not bombs, are the answer”, but when it comes to Assad bombs suddenly seem to be the answer. We need to work on both, let’s not throw an absolutist, or at least near absolutist, spanner in the works now.

  • Mark Smulian 1st Dec '15 - 2:23pm

    Even Cameron appears to accept that bombing alone cannot defeat ISIS, it would need troops on the ground.
    Since he does not wish to put British troops there, no other western country is likely to put their troops in harm’s way, the Kurds will fight only in what they see as their area of interest and the official Syrian army is in the service of a dictator Cameron wanted to bomb only two years ago, who exactly will do this fighting?
    Cameron has dreamed up a 70,000 strong force of allegedly ‘moderate’ rebels. Even if they exist, are they an organised fighting force capable of the task, and to who or what do they owe loyalty?
    What is being proposed looks like bombing for the sake of being seen to do something.

  • David in Iraq the government asked for air cover. In Syria there has been no request for assistance. The Syrian government has invited Russia to assist. Thanks to the stupidity of a English MP Sykes and a French Diplomat Picot a line in the sand was the boundary between Syria and Iraq.

  • Yes, we are already bombing ISIL in Northern Iraq, we have been flying missions there since 1990, it didnt prevent ISIS, it didnt stop people becoming refugees, it didnt do much except win a fee brownie points from US, provide plenty of anti UK propaganda for ISIS and cost a fortune. So why, with no sophistry and a 25 year record of failure and chaos, would we deliberately choose to extend this to Syria??? Like one of the previous posters, if our MPs vote for this, more than anything the coalition did, I will quit this party because there is only so much stupidity a party can tolerate.

  • I really wonder what has happened to the Lib Dems that their Leader can advocate bombing Syria. The world does not need more violence against innocent people.

  • Shaun Cunningham 1st Dec '15 - 3:02pm

    Think David is saying no to Military action .

    1 Legal……any action will be legal and is covered by the UN Resolution.

    The council resolution “calls upon member states that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures … on the territory under the control of Isil [Isis]” It also urges states to intensify efforts to stem the flow of foreigners looking to fight with Isis in Iraq and Syria and to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism

    Very clear to me.

    2 What, if any, evidence of plans for a no-bomb zone? None that I have seen. Anyway, how can you have a no-bomb zone in Raqqa when innocent, terrorised and enslaved civilians provide a human shield for ISIL?…….

    I do not believe for a second the RAF will be dropping bombs in areas where they are civilians and nor should you David. This is just raw emotion. We need to move away from this rhetoric. Did IS think twice about murdering civilians in their wheelchairs when they killed 131 people in France. I happen to believe the RAF is extremely professional. In the last year their targeting has been second to none in Iraq, so please place emotion to one side.

    3) This may answer your question.

    4) Post -ISIL Plan

    Listened to the debate last week and to be honest, I heard the figure of £1 billion for reconstruction. The government is calling for all groups, other than IS, to have a say in any future government because it is through inclusiveness peace will be built and maintained. The process of bringing peace to Syria is a complex one, and one needs to start somewhere and the removal of this terrorist group is the place to start. To do nothing is not an option any more. We are dealing with thugs and we should stand up to them, excuses for inaction, and they never change, should be seen for what they are, excuses.

    5) Understand the report you refer to will be published later this month. Regarding refugees, I do believe the country has spoken on this matter and as a party we are outside public opinion on this. In saying that I fully support taking more refugees from the camps surrounding Syria, but not those who are trekking through Europe. Many are NOT refugees.

  • @ theakes and @ David What is the difference between UK military action in Iraq and potential UK military action in Syria?

    In Iraq we are supporting the [elected] government of Iraq at their request to defend their territory against IS. When and if airstrikes are successful and IS withdraws the territory vacated can be occupied by Iraqi government forces [I acknowledge that coalition airstrikes are also assisting the Kurds who then occupy territory but the Kurds too have a regular “government” within the post occupation arrangements for Iraq.]

    In Syria the government has not asked for our support [and if it did ask for our support we would probably refuse as we are rightly opposed to the government of Syria]. When and if airstrikes were to be successful and IS withdraws the territory vacated would be open to occupation by any neighbouring armed group such as the Syrian army. Many of the armed groups at war with each other in Syria are brutish and vicious to people who are not “of their ilk” thus airstrikes in Syria not only may kill civilians directly they may also expose the civilian population to further brutality.

  • Nothing about Turkey who are allegedly buying oil from ISIL and have a questionable role in allowing recruits to ISIL to pass through the border.

  • The “international law” consensus on Resolution 2249 is that it is NOT a full go-ahead for military action in.

  • Three other questions :

    a) Did the French nuclear capability deter the attack in Paris ?

    b) When are we going to invade/bomb Tibet in order to liberate it from George Osborne’s favourite business partner and builder of our next new nuclear power station (and part owner now of Manchester City) ?

    c) What is the Israeli Government doing to assist the refugees from Syria ?

  • Paul Reynolds 1st Dec '15 - 3:22pm

    ‘David’ asks a good, simple, question. Why are air strikes different in Syria, compared to Iraq ? the technical legalistic answer is that bombing IS and others in Iraq is at the request (some years ago) of the Shia-led Iraqi government in Baghdad. This bombing campaign is clearly NOT aimed at defeating IS but containing it, especially when IS is trying to encroach on Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq. In Syria, the government has not invited us and is vehemently against us bombing IS in the Eastern Syrian desert. This is not because the Syrian government supports IS. It is because they understand that the West is not trying to defeat IS, and they (and Russia) believe bombing IS in Syria is a pretext for trying to get rid of the Syrian Ba’athist government militarily. Bombing Syria against the wishes of the Syrian government is illegal under international law, if there is no self-defence justification and if there is no UN Security Council authorisation. The recent UN Resolution 2249 calls for (unnamed) states to use all necessary means to stop terrorist actions of IS, but it very clearly does NOT authorise all and sundry to bomb Syria against the wishes of the Russian-backed government there, and it says that such action should be compliant with exiting international rules. It could have expressly authorised unnamed states to bomb Syria uninvited, but it didn’t. Both Russia ans China voted for the resolution and there can be absolute certainty that they would not vote for the West to bomb themselves and their ally the Syrian Government ! So Cameron is not being truthful when he says the UN has authorised the UK to bomb Syria, and the security briefing to Lib Dem Privy Councillors like Tim and Tom, was mostly propaganda, not intelligence.

    What’s more, and what makes Syria and Russia so strongly against those bombing Syria uninvited, is that they believe that that the US plus UK & France, is not really trying to defeat IS, pointing to the well-known route for industrial-scale IS oil into Turkey, and the well known routes for IS arms and money via Turkey, and from Saudi Arabia up the river Euphrates – both of which can be stopped by the West if it chooses. In addition, the US has recently backed a Turkish idea to have a ‘safe, no-fly zone’ in Syria on the Turkish border, which is seen as an annexation of Syrian territory and will almost certainly lead to a war involving the Kurds, Russians, Syria and Turkey.

  • Stephen Howse 1st Dec '15 - 3:31pm

    “The main issue is not whether Tim has met his five tests but whether bombing IS in Syria is the right thing. We know they are awful and dangerous so if we find a military target I don’t see why we need to take an absolutist position that we mustn’t bomb it because it is in Syria.”

    I agree with Eddie Sammon.

    We’re already bombing them in Iraq – I don’t understand how you can be in favour of that and not of bombing them in Syria. What is the moral difference?

  • Paul Reynolds 1st Dec '15 - 3:31pm

    Although the UK newspapers are full of stories about a Labour split on Syria, the more important split is in the Conservative party. Prominent Tories like David Davies MP have pointed out that IS would not exist if it wasn’t for Saudi and Turkish ‘support’.

    Many of us know exactly how the direction of negotiations should go, to end a war now, without escalating it for 10 years first. It one wishes to be kind to the UK Government you might say that they have been bullied into this, and behind the scenes they are likely to have been told that bombing Syria and sending in ground troops is just to create a negotiating ploy against Russia. As in Iraq, they may have been promised business for BP and Shell, too.

    In the end the whole mess is ultimately about Iran. The nuclear deal between the West and Iran, and the coming wave of investment in Iran, upset the Gulf countries. In return they, and their allies in the area and in the US, set about heading off a surge of Iranian influence in the Mid East … by neutralising its ally Syria via IS, and by starting a war in Yemen to limited potential Iranian influence there.
    It’s a mess and it’s a great shame out 8 Lib Dem MPs have been so easily misled.

  • Ben Jephcott 1st Dec '15 - 3:33pm

    I don’t think there is enough progress on points 2 3 or 4 to say the tests have been met.
    Additionally, there is not enough evidence of armed groups who are not jihadis who are ready, willing and able to fight by being located on the front line with ISIS. Close air support to such locally supported soldiers would be legitimate under the UN resolution, but the motion is not as tightly confined as that.

    We need a lot more progress on reducing the number of warring parties in Syria through some kind of ceasefire between Assad and the FSA and a process for ending the civil war – there is very little sign of that either.

    The international border with Iraq does matter, even though the state is an imperial creation, on that side it is clear that we can provide air support to Kurdish or Iraqi government forces fighting IS directly – the clarity of purpose is there and some good is being done, though civilian casualties are still too high (e.g. after Paris, the French planes managed to bomb a school).

    There are good grounds for repeating our five tests, explaining where they have not been met and voting against or abstaining. If Cameron gets the vote through as seems likely, it is clear that it will be set in stone as an open-ended commitment to bombing for the long term. I doubt whether in a year’s time Parliament will be asked to vote on renewing the authority to bomb, if things do not go well. We must not be dragged into a war like that without clear aims, objectives or exit strategy.

    A ground assault by motivated soldiers would rapidly end the Baghdadi regime and send ISIS back underground, but if they are Western soldiers the following occupation would be just as disastrous as it was in Iraq. The soldiers have to be local, with support or at least acceptance from the local Sunni population. A loose coalition of the FSA, Kurds, the Arab League and the Iraqi government could do it, but it doesn’t exist as yet.

    We should not support the motion tomorrow.

  • Paul Reynolds 1st Dec '15 - 3:36pm

    For an excellent debate among international lawyers about the meaning of UN Resoution 2249 please see

  • Ray Cobbett 1st Dec '15 - 3:44pm

    Right with you David on this one as we witness the emergence of Blair 2 without knowing the truth yet of Blair 1. Fallon’s feeble attempts to scare everybody witless into saying yes to the bombing is utterly pathetic and even those of the Labour party thinking about supporting the Tories are mostly engaged in a proxy war with JC . I marched with Charley against Iraq and I wish to God he was still around to lead the charge against this pernicious government.

  • Too late for this discussion. Sky News reports that Lib Dem MPs are supporting Cameron. Decision made.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Dec '15 - 4:16pm


    Sky News is wrong, just as the BBC was wrong today reporting that and just as Laura Kuenssberg was wrong last night saying we we were opposing. I have just come off the phone with someone who knows and who says that all the media froth is so far misplaced. I’m believing nothing till I hear it from Tim Farron himself.

  • Carl – Paul Reynolds links to an article about this, which is a fuller paper about the legal implications than the reports in the broadsheet media about it.

  • Peter Davies 1st Dec '15 - 4:36pm

    We may not have a plan for post-ISIL Syria but we do have a plan for post-ISIL Iraq. The problem is that when Iraqi forces reach the border, they will be facing ISIL forces raiding from a safe haven that we are not currently allowed to attack. Even if we only intend to push them out of Iraq (as we are already trying to do) we need to degrade their capabilities in Syria.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Dec '15 - 4:36pm

    Thanks Stephen Howse. I’m not believing anything until I hear it from Tim Farron either, but whatever happens the case needs to be put across well and people should hear the MPs out on it.

    Our surveillance aircraft already has strike capability, so to use others instead seems like it could increase risk to civilians. The details of this are in Cameron’s statement and I’ve heard it elsewhere too.

    “In addition, our Reaper drones are providing up to 30% of the intelligence in Syria, but they are not currently able to use their low-collateral, high-precision missile systems.”

    If they decide against I’ll listen to the case again. But I’m unlikely to be convinced. The moderates opposed seem to want to bomb Assad instead, or at least think about it, but I don’t see why we can’t do both. The latter needs more planning.

  • In any situation we have to act in what best serves our best interests. All other arguments are pedantic and political.
    We are already at war with ISIL whether it be in Iraq or Syria or wherever. We are really fighting the Caliphate. We were not invited into Syria during the second world war but it was in our interests to invade, on a smaller scale the Faroes. Likewise it was considered not in our best interests to invade the Channel Islands in 1944/5.
    Politically our MP’s have a political dilemma. Perhaps they should go 4 in favour and 4 against, that does not affect matters either way, maybe we could then get the best of both worlds.

  • David Faggiani 1st Dec '15 - 5:40pm

    This feels like a big moment. I’m 30 now, but for people 10-15 years younger than me or so, I think this could be pretty politically defining.

    And, of course, much more so for Syria.

  • I hope Tim will make a principled stand advocating tackling Saudi Arabia and Turkey to cut off funding and arms for the enemy, and not using bombs to massacre innocent civilians which has already been tried and has proven to be counter-productive.

  • Peter Davies 1st Dec '15 - 6:10pm

    Seriously? We could be defined by which direction we fail to influence policy on whether we extend strikes against an enemy we are currently striking to an area where we are currently directing allied strikes?

  • Would be a huge error of judgement for Lib Dems to back Cameron on Syria. The big strategic questions remain unanswered and diplomatic pressure to help allies post-Paris amounts to “something must be done”. When we put our armed forces in harm’s way, and take decisions that will kill people, the level of scrutiny must be absolute. Wilful disregard of questions around military utility, over-reliance on disparate local forces, and how long allied forces would be required to hold the territory border on criminal. Have we learned nothing?

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '15 - 6:24pm

    Caron Lindsay 1st Dec ’15 – 1:12pm At a fringe meeting at Bournemouth conference there was a representative of UNHCR. He explained their funding situation and added, with a tone of despair, that there were (at that time) not enough unaccompanied children in the UNHCR camps in Jordan, Lebanon, etc to meet the quota that the UK government had set. There were a larger number of unaccompanied children in Europe, outside the EU and at risk.

  • What Paul Reynolds said.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '15 - 6:59pm

    Paul Reynolds 1st Dec ’15 – 3:36pm This is very helpful and explains the importance of the word “binding” on Newsnight and the Daily Politics. Clearly the French diplomats are very skilful, but the UN resolution is not binding on member states of the UN. Therefore there is a ‘coalition of the willing’ (and able). The decision about UK involvement is for the House of Commons to decide, but when they have done so there will be questions about the further deployment of military assets, people, machines and money. Assurencies may be given by government ministers in debate, but war is very expensive, so we should also focus on the defence budget and whether the Chancellor has provided enough. So far, probably not.
    What would Charles Kennedy have done?

  • Shaun Cunningham 1st Dec '15 - 7:00pm

    This this Country is under an imminent and growing threat of attack by IS, just like the attacks in Paris, Tunisia and of course the lost of life when Russian civil airliner was destroyed over Sinai – orchestrated, planned and directed from Raqqa in North East Syria. This fallacy held by some that we should not upset the terrorist in the hope they will leave us alone is beyond belief.

    We have already suffered the indiscriminate killing of UK tourists holidaying on beaches in Tunisia. British residents murdered while enjoying a holiday. The security services within the UK have already foiled 7 attacks inspired or directed by ISIL this year.

    MP – quote
    “The choice before Parliament is not whether our country enters into a new conflict – it is whether we extend our existing commitment in a conflict that we are already engaged in and cannot hide from. Those who wish us harm will remain bent on our destruction whatever we decide”

    To say there is no case for military action is hiding from one’s responsibility to ensure collectively we stay safe. All this nonsense being talked about, that IS have NOT been degraded in the last 12 months through RAF operations over Iraq is completely wrong and false.

    Not sure what our party’s MP’s will do, however I fully support this Government actions in extending air operations to Syria and I hope the government wins tomorrow night vote with an impressive majority because in my opinion to remain safe we need action, not inaction.

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Dec '15 - 7:02pm

    What Sir Walter Scott says,

    “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”

  • Jayne Mansfield 1st Dec '15 - 7:25pm

    @ Shaun Cunningham,
    We are under attack whether we bomb Syria or not. As with Paris, the threat will probably come from our own citizens.

    The fallacy , if I may so, is that those who are opposed to bombing, are proposing that we do nothing.

  • Paul Reynolds,
    good posts.

  • @Shaun Cunningham
    The attack in Egypt was carried out by Egyptians. The attacks in Paris were carried out by Parisians. The attacks in Tunisia were carried out by a Tunisian. Noticed a pattern yet? That’s right – they didn’t come from Syria but identified with those they perceive as being oppressed by the establishment in the West. The way to perpetuate that cycle of discontent and violence is to drop bombs on Syria from a safe distance.

  • David thomason 1st Dec '15 - 11:24pm

    Im so very sorry to learn that the party has given its unquestionably backing to go to war in Syria
    I thought that now we were no longer in the coalition government we would have our own opinion that we would be brave and stand for what we really believe. Like we did so brilliantly with the Iraq war. So yes im deeply dissapointed in the decision our mps have made. They say they listened to David Cameron
    But have they listened to the many new members
    That have joined the party ?
    Im not sure that they have
    Once again its a sad day

  • Gwyneth – “If our MPs vote for bombing I will really wonder if I am in the right party, more than anything that happened in the coalition.” – I feel the same way, although do wonder if I’m living on the right planet.

  • Dean Clarke 2nd Dec '15 - 4:21am

    I was thinking of rejoining the party but if Lib MPs can act in favour of such I’ll thought out action then it shows that the party still is not in accordance with my principles.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Dec '15 - 8:28am

    Clear and logical, David. I fear, however, the response from our Leader on this matter is based more upon fear. Not fear of ISIS but fear of the political fall-out of getting the wrong end of certain media commentators. I am saddened more than any of the sadness which I experienced during the five years of Coalition.

  • Caron LindsayCaron Lindsay 1st Dec ’15 – 4:16pm

    Sky News is wrong, just as the BBC was wrong today reporting that and just as Laura Kuenssberg was wrong last night saying we we were opposing. I have just come off the phone with someone who knows and who says that all the media froth is so far misplaced. I’m believing nothing till I hear it from Tim Farron himself.”

    It seems Sky News was not wrong, nor was the BBC.

  • I think Tim Farron’s clear and thought through statement of the case for support for action is what weighs with me:

  • Steve Comer 2nd Dec '15 - 5:26pm


    I thought this statement of case that someone sent me on Facebook from the from the Huffington Post today was more informed:

    The clear case for bombing Syria:
    * All previous such interventions – Iraq, Libya etc have totally stabilised those countries, rendered them peaceful and reduced radicalisation
    * No innocent civilians will be killed as we now have bombs that ask to see people’s ID before they explode.
    · We have 70;000 moderate allies on the ground, including fighters from Narnia, Gondor, Sylvania and the Republic of
    · The way to stop the refugee crisis caused by people fleeing bombs – by dropping more bombs.
    · Bombing by the US, France, the Saudis, Russia etc… has not stopped ISIL. However, our (UK) bombing definitely will.
    · Bombing ISIL is supported by all right-thinking people, such as President Assad.
    · In order to avoid unnecessary delays, we have already appointed Chilcot to look into why the bombing of Syria went so badly wrong.

  • Mark Stefan 2nd Dec '15 - 9:22pm

    I completely condemn ISIL and everything they stand for but this knee jerk and ill thought out response will not make this country any more secure but will undoubtedly result in further suffering and fatalities for innocent civilians as pointed out by many others in the comments above. I have been a liberal democrat supporter for decades and stayed loyal throughout the coalition years (and I think history will be kinder on Clegg than the electoral were) but sadly Tim Farron’s decision to vote for more bombing of this troubled region is for me personally the final straw.

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