Farron’s five tests to secure Lib Dem support for UK action in Syria

Falling on David Cameron’s desk this afternoon is a letter signed by all current and living former leaders of the Liberal Democrats in which they outline the five key tests the Government must pass in order to secure the party’s support for airstrkes in Syria.

Here is the letter in full:

In advance of your statement outlining your plan for military intervention against ISIL in Syria, we are writing to outline the criteria against which we will judge our response to your proposals.

As you will know our party has maintained a consistent position that airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIL in Syria. Deployment of lethal force should never be used simply as a gesture. It has to have effect, and to have effect it has to be part of a wider strategy, especially on the diplomatic front.

We are encouraged by the fact that the Government has at last decided to explain the details of that strategy and look forward to hearing what this is.

The five conditions below give the UK the best chance at having an effective strategy to counter ISIL and make serious progress in ending the Syrian civil war. We call on you to embed them into your plans before they are brought to the House of Commons on Thursday.

These conditions are:

1.   Legal

Military intervention must follow an international legal framework. We believe this has been provided by UN Resolution 2249 which urges members to take “all reasonable measures” to defeat ISIL.

This is the instrument with which all those opposed to ISIL have the means to coordinate military action to defeat them, including regional actors on the ground.

2.       Wider diplomatic framework including efforts towards a no-bomb zone to protect civilians

Any military action by the UK must be part of a wider international effort involving all who have an interest in defeating ISIL, as a prelude to ending the conflict in Syria, including Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The UK Government should use all efforts to ensure that the Vienna talks succeed in bringing together the broadest possible support for action to end the war in Syria and effect political transition.

In addition, we call on the government to explicitly work towards ending the Syrian regime’s bombing of civilianswith a no-bomb zone to maximise civilian protection and allow for an upscaling of humanitarian access.

3.       UK led pressure on Gulf States for increased support in the region

The UK should lead a concerted international effort to put pressure on the Gulf States, specifically Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis, to stop the funding of jihadi groups within the region and worldwide and do much more to assist in the effort to defeat ISIL, establish peace in Syria and help with the refugee situation. They are currently doing very little, despite claiming to be part of the anti-ISIL coalition.

ISIL is not just a Western problem, and this is one way of preventing them from framing the situation in that way.

4.       Post-ISIL plan

The government must be absolutely clear on what Syria and Iraq will look like post-ISIL, and what post-conflict strategy (including an exit strategy) they propose to give the best chance of avoiding a power vacuum. This must be linked to the above diplomatic framework which will outline steps for ending the wider conflict in Syria.

5.       Domestic

We acknowledge that the fight against ISIL is not just in the Middle East: it is within Europe and it is here in the UK. We call on the government to immediately publish its 2014 investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood and also call on them to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK.

We call on the government to step up its acceptance of Syrian refugees, and opt in to Save the Children’s proposal to rehome 3000 unaccompanied refugee children from with Europe.

UPDATE: Signatories added after a request in the comments:

Tim Farron MP
Nick Clegg MP
Lord Ashdown of Norton sub Hamdon
Lord Campbell of Pittenweem
Kirsty Williams AM
Willie Rennie MSP

The decision on whether to take or support military action is not one to be taken lightly. The Liberal Democrat leaders who signed the letter include a former Deputy Prime Minister who, up until 6 months ago, was receiving security briefings on a daily basis, two experts in the field of foreign affairs and a former member of the Defence Select Committee. They have credibility and they know what they are talking about. They have come up with a coherent set of tests, which is more than the official opposition has done.

Getting this decision right is hard. Charles Kennedy did in 2003 in refusing to back the war in Iraq. At that time, there was huge opposition to that conflict in the country. In 1999, Alex Salmond got it very badly wrong when he refused to back airstrikes in Kosovo, calling them “unpardonable folly.” At that time, Paddy Ashdown had been one of the most vocal proponents of taking action on humanitarian grounds. 

Setting out the key tests in this measured, thoughtful and considered way is absolutely the right thing to do. It is something a responsible party would do.

I am not yet convinced that airstrikes on Syria would do more good than harm, but I’m not as instinctively opposed to them as I was right from the start to the war in Iraq. This feels more to me like the build up to the Gulf War in 1990, which was done more sensibly and with full participation from the region. They also stopped when they had done the agreed job of freeing Kuwait.  While Labour fiddle and dither, the Liberal Democrats have spoken with authority.

Does 2249 provide enough legal cover?  “All reasonable means” sounds pretty comprehensive to me.

The two most interesting parts are the bit about putting pressure on the Gulf States to cut off the funding to the extremists and as proof of that to publish the report into the Muslim Brotherhood and do further investigations. Paddy was on the Today programme talking about that this morning:

The failure to put pressure on the Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, first of all to stop funding the Salafists and Wahhabists, secondly to play a larger part in this campaign and other actions where the Government has refused to have a proper inquiry into the funding of jihadism in Britain, leads me to worry about the closeness between the Conservative party and rich Arab Gulf individuals.

Will the Tories risk upsetting their key allies? Remember Cameron’s tours to the Gulf States promoting British aircraft. Farron’s call yesterday for a ban on arms sales to countries with dodgy human rights records was not just coincidental.

I may not like the eventual destination, but I do commend the route that Tim and the other signatories are following. Before I give my support to military action, I want two things – a Caron test, if you like, to go with the Farron Test. The first is a full, detailed assessment of why this group of people think these conditions have been met. Secondly, I want an assurance that if we do support action that we will speak up if we see it all going pear-shaped.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • Jack Davies 24th Nov '15 - 5:07pm

    I won’t support bombing in Syria but I understand why we as a party cannot afford not to.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Nov '15 - 5:14pm

    These are reasonable tests. I don’t like the sight of “5 tests”, (never mind two more Caron tests :)), but they are reasonable.

    For me the UK has got into a state of mind where we either do pretty much nothing militarily or we give our Prime Minister a near blank cheque. I would have supported bombing Daesh the Sunday following the attacks with France and then sitting back and thinking. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.


  • No British bombing if there is no diplomatic progress.

  • steve James 24th Nov '15 - 5:15pm

    For me the red line is point 4. No achievable end = no bombs

  • George Kendall 24th Nov '15 - 5:47pm

    Interesting to compare this with just war theory.

    If we meet Tim’s tests, we’ll probably meet Just War Theories criteria too.
    In contrast, there’s an argument that the Iraq war met none of the Just War Theories criteria.

    See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war_theory#Criteria_of_Just_War_theory

  • Richard Underhill 24th Nov '15 - 5:57pm

    Caron Lindsay | Tue 24th November 2015 – 4:34 pm Please name the signatories.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Nov '15 - 6:10pm

    Given the Russians have lost an aircraft to the Turkish Air Force, I think that this might be taken out of the hands of either our government or our party.

    The Russians might well retaliate, if they do then we cannot afford to be supporting them in bombing Da’esh, it would leave us vulnerable both politically and militarily

  • I don’t think it’s British interests to stay involved. You cannot fight a successful campaign when the your allies are allowing ISIL fighters through their borders, funding, buying oil from and the chief drivers of the ideology of the enemy. This is an Arab sectarian conflict and our involvement is simply pointless given the confused strategy and overcrowded airspace. I think we should completely withdrew from the conflict and concentrate on home security. This nonsense has now gone on for the best part of 25 years and we should just give it up as a bad job.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Nov '15 - 6:36pm

    Now added in, Richard.

  • Lorraine Johnson 24th Nov '15 - 6:45pm

    I absolutely agree with the existing propsaks & support the aditional 2 that Caron has suggested (can’t believe I’m potentially sanctioning military action but desperate times needs desperate measures :(. )

  • Gillian Douglass 24th Nov '15 - 6:47pm

    Just wondering if these criteria have been applied to the air strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  • Glenn
    I agree with you on this subject.

  • Benjamin Teall 24th Nov '15 - 10:28pm
  • nigel hunter 24th Nov '15 - 11:17pm

    Saudi’s fund the Jihadis. The Government fund the Saudis? Is it in both their interests to keep the conflict going? Saudis sell cheap oil to us,The Government get the credit of a cheap economy? Vested interests?

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 25th Nov '15 - 1:08am

    Anyone particularly troubled by a NATO country’s leader’s family helping ISIS and themselves by selling oil from Syrian and Iraqi lands- war plunder- through laundering mechanisms??

    Shouldn’t we first be doing all to cut off funding ISIS BEFORE we consider bombing Raqqa and its inevitable civilian deaths that will be greater than in last week’s Paris mass murders?
    Cutting ISIS funds may unfortunately affect a few middlemen in the EU and NATO countries making a fast buck… and more significantly, open very awkward questions on NATO that the gutless political Western class refuse to face. They’d rather go for the path of least resistance: Bomb Raqqa to kill ISIS terrorists…and 100s of civilians.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Nov '15 - 1:42am

    Tomas Howard-Jones makes a good point about Turkey not doing enough to stop the funding of Daesh. Turkey seem more concerned with the Kurds and Russia with the moderate rebels. As I said on the 16th of November on here: “We can’t just wait for Turkey and Russia to agree with each other “. International consensus is a long way off.

    I think the whole idea that we need to wait for consensus before we act is wrong anyway. It’s not nice, but let’s just launch a limited strike on Daesh as the least worst option and then possibly fund moderate rebels to get rid of Assad.

    But getting rid of Assad needs a lot of thought. Does he hold support in some small parts of the country such as Damascus? These questions need to be asked. You can’t just say “he’s killed a lot of people” and put the pen down because what replaces him could be al-Qaeda.

  • Why get rid of Assad when we will not touch Saudi,Bahrain and Qatar? I do not understand the reasoning and I expect many others do not. Getting rid of Gaddafi and Saddam caused chaos, death and destruction. Oh now I get it!

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Nov ’15 – 1:42am………………I think the whole idea that we need to wait for consensus before we act is wrong anyway. It’s not nice, but let’s just launch a limited strike on Daesh as the least worst option and then possibly fund moderate rebels to get rid of Assad………………..But getting rid of Assad needs a lot of thought. Does he hold support in some small parts of the country such as Damascus? These questions need to be asked. You can’t just say “he’s killed a lot of people” and put the pen down because what replaces him could be al-Qaeda…….

    As far as the ‘peaceful revolt’ against Assad went…Assad had effectively crushed this as early as 2011… and the Syrian army had effectively restored government authority to all the restive towns and cities by force…

    Sadly, the West and neighbouring countries that wanted Assad’s removal started the next phase; an armed insurgency financed and supported by us/them. The western media tales about ‘moderates’ never changed as the violence in Syria escalated and a civil conflict – largely fuelled and sustained externally – ravaged the country.
    However, although it was becoming increasingly clear that extremism, sectarianism and jihadist groups were on the rise and gaining dominance in the insurgency, this was ignored/whitewashed in favour of “the regime vs the people” scenario,
    Assad could not have survived without support among his own population;, it just goes against all logic. A large part of the Syrian population still supports the regime.

    The idea that we should ” just launch a limited strike on Daesh as the least worst option and then possibly fund moderate rebels to get rid of Assad” is abhorrent. What you are proposing is to continue to fuel a civil war which has no end in sight, with all the horrors that means…

  • I will say the same here that I said on Labour List about Labours 5 Tests – such tests are usually an excuse to do nothing & I am always suspicious whoever comes up with them. The 1st 3 points are completely reasonable but its hard to see the logic of 4 & 5. Obviously we should be doing what planning we can ( as minor players) for Syrias future & trying to set our own house in order but I cant see why either of those have to come before taking a decision now. Our delays have already cost innocent lives & allowed Putin to elbow his way in, more delays will have more costs.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Nov '15 - 1:55pm

    expats, I did say “possibly” fund more moderate Syrian rebels. Exploring all options is not abhorrent. I’m open to compromise. Many, including some western experts, think him going entirely should be a red line. So I’m not being that inflexible/tough. But he can’t stay forever in a united Syria.

  • The five questions suggest their authors have very little grasp of the swirling cross-currents in the region. They seem to think it’s scripted by Enid Blyton; in fact it’s John Le Carre on steroids.

    After the earlier disastrous intervention so rightly opposed by Charles Kennedy, Iraq is now dominated by Shia elements allied to Iran. This scares Saudi Arabia and Qatar (which have restive Shia populations) witless. If Iran/Iraq manage to link up with Assad’s Syria then they will be completely outmatched in power. Even more to the point their long-term goal of building a gas pipeline from the Gulf to Europe will die while Iran/Iraq/Syria could instead build it (drawing incidentally on the same giant gas field that straddles the Iran/Qatar border).

    So, a bit of jawboning will make no difference; the Saudis & Qataris will support Daesh to the hilt no matter what. If this report is right that means giving Daesh advanced air defence systems (blowback from the Ukraine fiasco – someone really needs to have strong words with Kiev).


    Meanwhile, Turkey’s Erdogan is reportedly ambitious to start recreating the Ottoman Empire starting with bits of Syria – which means supporting Daesh. As someone has pointed out, the Russian plane was shot down immediately after the Russians took out 1,000 road tankers transporting Deash oil to Turkey. It is widely alleged that sources, umm, close to Erdogan are involved in the trade. That is also why the Turks want a ‘no-fly’ zone – it’s to protect the remaining cross-border route from air attack after the Kurds closed most by their successful advance.

    Meanwhile also, the US has for over a year mysteriously failed to notice those same road tankers crossing open desert in convoys stretching to the horizon. Only after Russia publicised provided satellite photos showing them did US forces notice them. They subsequently claimed to have hit 116 tankers. Even then the PBS report following day illustrated the attacks with a Russian cockpit video.

    In short, we are being right-royally lied to yet again. We should just keep out and stop being the US’s silly little poodle.

  • Obviously there is massive debate in the party.

    For myself I would rather we seek to meet those Tests (5 or 7) before adding to the carnage.

    I am sure our Air Force could inflict some damage, but I cannot see that our few aircraft, however accurate will change things in major way. Therefore let us NOT be hasty.
    I am greatly disconcerted by the apparent reports of big opportunities to destroy really significant targets. The appalling attacks in Paris needed to have a response but then and since it seems like some “Top” targets have been “saved” for the French and subsequently David Cameron is going to have us get the leaders of ISIS. I simply cannot believe that if these targets already existed America or one of the others already involved would have attacked already!

    I think this is one where we need to be smarter and as others have said work to cut off the funds and military supplies and working tirelessly diplomatically to remove the support from wherever it comes for those who inflict terror of whichever sort.

    Simultaneously, we should redouble our efforts to assist the innocents in this whole situation in all the ways we and allies can manage.

  • We have never needed Charles Kennedy as much as we do now.

  • Victor Ient 30th Nov '15 - 8:40am

    I agree the airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIL in Syria. Yes, we must have wider diplomatic framework including efforts towards a no-bomb zone. Yes, we must have post-ISIL plan & exit strategy and yes, the fight against ISIL is not just in the Middle East: it is here in Europe and the UK.

    At the same time we should support the French – as we would expect them to support us if Paris had happened here. The RAF are already engaged in Iraq. Look at the geography – it make sence in that part of Syria for us to support our allies.

    I support the Lib Dem 5 conditions and I support taking military action to conter the ISIL threat. We have technology now that we did not have in the 1st & 2nd gulf war.

    All that said we must find a way to win over the hearts and minds of young people tempted to join ISIL and covert to live their lives in peace with us all. Goodness knows – we are all only on this planet for a brief moment in time. We must work hard to get everyone involved in the region to look towrds a solution for peace. We must redouble our diplomatic efforts.

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