Liberal Democrat MPs explain Syria vote

We heard from Nick Clegg on Sky News last night and Tim Farron has written and talked about why he’s decided to support Syrian airstrkes.

Other MPs have been explaining their thinking. As we find them, we’ll put them up on this post.It’s going to be a bit of a marathon read, but worth having all the rationale in one place.

Alistair Carmichael

You will have seen it reported in the press and media this morning that Liberal Democrat MPs will support the motion in the House of Commons today to extend to areas of Syria our current military involvement against ISIL/Da’esh in Iraq. I want to explain why, after lengthy discussion and deliberation, we have reached this decision and why I will support it.

Decisions of this sort are never easy and this has been the most difficult one that I have ever known. I certainly do not share David Cameron’s reported view that those who oppose intervention are “terrorist sympathisers”. This is an issue on which we have all had to come to our own conclusions and for many of us it has been an enormously difficult process. I know no one, inside parliament or not, who has approached this from anything other than a position of good faith and I respect completely those who have reached a different conclusion from mine.

By comparison the decision to oppose war in Iraq was simple by comparison – it was clearly illegal and it was difficult to identify what the British interest in intervention was.

Recognising that some of the problems we are dealing with today have their roots in that disastrous misadventure, we should be quite clear about why this is a different conflict with different issues.

The intervention against ISIL/Da’esh in Iraq which we currently support is legal by virtue of the fact that we were invited to take part by the Iraqi government. The proposed extension of that to Syria is legal as it has the mandate of a United Nation Security Council Resolution 2249. The legality of the proposal is therefore clear.

The wording of that resolution, if fact, goes further than authorising action. It “calls on” states that have the capacity to act.

I also believe that there is a UK national interest that justifies acting here. Our neighbour and ally France has asked that we should. That same request has already received positive responses from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.

ISIL/Da’esh is a brutal organisation that subjugates woman, tortures and executes gays and will kill or torture anyone in their own community that does not actively support them. They have a capacity to take their war to our own communities as recent atrocities in Beirut, Paris and Sharm Al Sheikh have demonstrated. They are a force that has to be confronted. We are already engaged in this through our participation in strikes against them in Iraq. Refusing to extend that to Syria will not remove the threat of an attack happening in this country.

Of course, bombing alone is not going to be enough to resolve this. To beat ISIL/Da’esh militarily will require ground troops and those must come from within Syria and the surrounding countries.

It will also require a concerted political and diplomatic effort. That means that the Vienna process must be supported and broadened as far as possible.

Most importantly of all, if we are really to learn from the mistakes of Iraq and Libya we must be prepared to commit to engaging in post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction and to commit the money to that.

Whatever decision the Commons takes today will have consequences. Be in no doubt, however, that failing to act will also have consequences. The civil war that has killed thousands and which has seen unprecedented numbers of people displaced from their homes and come to Europe as refugees will continue.

Earlier this summer the response of British people to that refugee crisis was a compassionate one which had at its heart a determination to help. We have an opportunity (NB this is only an opportunity – it comes with no guarantees) to be part of an international effort to bring that conflict to an end, to use international institutions to rebuild a broken state and to do so in a way that is legal. To shrug our shoulders and refuse that opportunity because it is too difficult or should be left to others is to cheapen the compassion of that response and determination to help.

Tom Brake

I will be voting later today to support UK military intervention against Daesh in Syria.

This is not a decision taken in haste. Indeed two years ago when we debated taking action in Syria, I voted to leave open the option of the U.K. taking military action. Parliament rejected that option. Whilst we will never know what difference U.K. involvement might have made, we do know Syria has descended into a state of anarchy, hundreds of thousands have been killed, 4 million have fled Syria and millions more are displaced within Syria. Assad is murdering his people with barrel bombs and Daesh are throwing gay people from the top of buildings, raping and enslaving women and girls and beheading Syrians and foreigners alike.

As many of you know, the Liberal Democrats set out five points which we said the Government had to meet for us to consider supporting the resolution to join our allies in France and America with their campaign against Daesh in Syria. I believe that the Government has gone a long way to meet these five points.

We firmly stated that we had to have a sound legal basis to justify military intervention. The UN Security Council resolution 2249 provides this authorisation for action against Daesh and indeed requires it. This means that it is not a repeat of the Iraq war – which I, along with all other Lib Dem MPs, voted against – and in reality it is the opposite, as this resolution lays a duty on us to fight Daesh.

I am confident that we will see cooperation in the fight against Daesh from the different countries in the Middle East along with Russia, Iran, Turkey and Western countries. I believe that through further negotiations we will see a larger, multi-national effort to degrade Daesh and remove their influence from the Middle East. This is starting to happen in the Vienna talks, with Iran and Saudi Arabia, implacable foes, sitting together at the same table.

The world is already united in its commitment to degrading Daesh and degrading Daesh must be the first step towards finding peace within Syria. The long term aim is of course to create a stable and democratic Syria. Limited UK air strikes in Syria will not bring democracy to Syria, however they could help buy time for the Vienna talks and their objective of finding a diplomatic and political solution for Syria.

I am pleased to hear assurances from the Government that we will see a commitment to investigating how jihadi groups are being funded which is of critical importance in the fight against Daesh. I also believe that the Prime Minister is starting to understand that if the UK is to be involved in military intervention in Syria, then we must also step up to the plate and provide a safe haven for more of the refugees who are fleeing the terror facing them in Syria. This is an issue which I will continue to fight for vehemently.
The Liberal Democrats are not giving unconditional support for our Government to carry out military intervention within Syria over the next few years; if we believe that we are making mistakes in Syria then I will do my duty as a Member of Parliament and express my concerns and hold the Government to account.

Like many of my constituents and supporters, at the forefront of my mind is that we must ensure that civilians do not lose their lives as a result of UK military intervention. The UK strategy is to ensure zero civilian strategies. This is the approach that has been adopted recently in Iraq. The issue of civilian safety is of utmost importance and strikes right at the heart of why people are against military intervention. Yet if we do nothing directly to tackle Daesh, then we are not helping these civilians and are instead putting them in grave danger. As a Liberal, I cannot do nothing and sit there and watch their suffering and I believe that it is morally right that the UK proceeds with air strikes within Syria as we are doing already in Iraq.

Crucially, as an internationalist I believe we must support our neighbours and be united against this terror. We have seen bloodshed very close to home through the abhorrent attacks in Paris, which sent an emotional shockwave through the British public. It saddens me to say this but the more Daesh consolidate their power, the more likely it is that we will see a similar attack in our own country, meaning that the time to put a stop to them should be now. We have also seen Daesh attacks in Lebanon, Ankara and elsewhere too and we should seek to reduce the risk of these attacks as well.

No one should ever want war and arguably liberals should be against war, which explains my scepticism over military intervention in Syria over the last few month.

We must be realistic with our predictions for the future and only hindsight will be able to say if I am making the right decision, but right now I can say that in my opinion the right decision is to support the Government’s resolution to propose military intervention in Syria. I will vote in support of action tonight.

Greg Mulholland

After lengthy consideration and discussion, I have decided, as has my party leader, to vote for the Government motion tomorrow to extend current air strikes against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq to also strike ISIS/Daesh in Syria. This must be part of a wider diplomatic and military plan to tackle this monstrous enemy, resolve the Syrian conflict and help end the refugee crisis.

This is clearly a very difficult decision, but in the end I have been presented with no viable alternative other than to work with the international community on a diplomatic and military strategy that involves action in Syria as well as Iraq.

The RAF are already targeting ISIS/Daesh in Iraq. It needs to be understood that what we are voting for is for the RAF to join French and American allies- and Russia- to also target ISIS/Daesh in Syria. The UK is already using air strikes against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq, with the support of the Iraqi government and assisting their army in defeating this evil force. That is the right thing to be doing. What we are now discussing is whether to extend these air strikes to Syria as part of a wider international strategy.

People are comparing this decision with the possibility in 2013 of the UK attacking the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but this is clearly not the same, legally or in reality. That potential action was taking on an existing ruler, this is not. It is targeting a terrorist force that is murdering, subjugating and raping thousands of people in Syria and Iraq. They have also beheaded British aid workers and thrown gay people off buildings. Now they are targeting Western Europe and people enjoying a rock concert or a meal with friends because somehow that is all about prostitution and homosexuality. This is an attack on our way of life, our shared belief in democracy and tolerance and everything this country fought for. We fought against a similarly monstrous illiberal movement, the Nazis who also persecuted and killed people due to their religion, nationality, race or sexuality.

As an internationalist party, we accept our responsibility to assist with international peacekeeping efforts. At times, when done legally (which this would be), we must also support international military action against those who terrorise, suppress, and are involved in mass murder and rape.

I fully accept that bombing alone will do little – but the point that people simply saying “don’t bomb Syria” are failing to grasp is that the US, France, and (crucially) Russia will work with us on a post-Assad future for Syria, but these countries do expect us to play our small part (which is what it is) in existing military action against ISIS. This is now about a wider solution and not about a few token missile strikes.

I am clear that this is not about “bombing Syria” or even just about dropping a few bombs on ISIS/Daesh targets. I agree that alone would not do much to alter either their position or the civil war. The actual motion we are voting on is not “should we bomb Syria”, it is a commitment by the United Kingdom to be part of – and play a full part in – an international a wider diplomatic and military solution, so it is wrong to misrepresent what we are voting on. The actual motion MPs will be voting on is:
“That this House notes that ISIL poses a direct threat to the United Kingdom; welcomes United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 which determines that ISIL constitutes an ‘unprecedented threat to international peace and security’ and calls on states to take ‘all necessary measures’ to prevent terrorist acts by ISIL and to ‘eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria’; further notes the clear legal basis to defend the UK and our allies in accordance with the UN Charter; notes that military action against ISIL is only one component of a broader strategy to bring peace and stability to Syria; welcomes the renewed impetus behind the Vienna talks on a ceasefire and political settlement; welcomes the Government’s continuing commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees; underlines the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction in Syria; welcomes the Government’s continued determination to cut ISIL’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons; notes the requests from France, the US and regional allies for UK military assistance; acknowledges the importance of seeking to avoid civilian casualties, using the UK’s particular capabilities; notes the Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; welcomes the Government’s commitment to provide quarterly progress reports to the House; and accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government in taking military action, specifically airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria; and offers its wholehearted support to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces .”

So I and we would not vote simply to drop a few bombs and if that is all it is, we would not support it. But if us extending our air strikes already happening in Iraq to over the border in Syria is a necessary part of a wider international solution, then we are prepared to and will do so.

I am also very clear that to disrupt and defeat ISIS/Daesh not only clearly involves concerted legal international military action, but in the end will involve ground forces. The question is whose ground forces and this is where we need existing ground forces getting more support and training. We will also need potential involvement from a Middle East-led international force, rather than Western forces being involved.

Of course I understand the concern and the views of those who say we should not extend our military involvement in Iraq to Syria. However I have heard no realistic alternative strategy of how we take on this monstrous anti-democratic, murderous and grotesquely intolerant, illiberal force. So in the end, I am voting to support concerted action rather than doing nothing, because doing nothing will not stop ISIS/Daesh and stop them we must.

We also must act as an international community to stop the Syrian civil war. What many Syrians ultimately want is the Assad regime gone. We must never lose sight of this being our end goal, so Syria can be ruled by a democratic government chosen by Syrians themselves, not a brutal dictatorship run by one family. And as long as Assad exists, ISIS/Daesh will continue to recruit. I, and indeed the Liberal Democrats, have always been clear that air strikes alone are not a solution. We also need to find a way to remove Assad, and this was touched on in the second of the five criteria Liberal Democrats lay out for supporting airstrikes. The question is how we remove Assad, and being totally realistic, the Vienna talks are our best chance right now. Whether we like it or not, there is no other option and I would challenge others to suggest one.

Yes, the Vienna talks have their issues – mainly, that Syrians aren’t represented. But my office has spoken with the foreign affairs minister responsible for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood MP and I understand that a UN group is present at the talks looking specifically at inviting a broad range of Syrian representatives. This is an important task since the Syrian opposition forces are much divided and exist in many factions, so we must seek to involve as many of them as we are able to. Tobias Ellwood MP said clearly that “Syrians must be involved” in these talks. It is only right that the future of Syria is decided by Syrians themselves, so I look forward to them playing a leading role in the Vienna talks as they develop.

Regardless, as I have said, the Vienna talks are our best chance right now to remove Assad. Then the question is, doesn’t that depend on Russia no longer propping him up? Indeed, and Vladimir Putin knows he is risking extremist instability within Russia the longer he allows ISIS/Daesh to grow. In short, Vienna could be Russia’s own exit route from having to back Assad. This is significant. The Vienna talks are proposing a six-month political transition, led by parties that both the regime and opposition agree on, followed by an 18-month timetable for elections. There are caveats with the Vienna talks but, and I labour the point deliberately, they are our best chance of removing Assad and that will remove the main driving force behind the creation of ISIS. The Holy Grail is Assad and ISIS gone, and Syria put back in the hands of Syrians, allowed to rebuild and look ahead to a better future.
Our international partners expect us to play a full part in the action required to take on ISIS/Daesh, if we do not do so, we will play little if any role in also assisting with a solution to the civil war and a stable and democratic future for Syria. So I do believe that to be part of the wider solution, as we clearly should, we are obliged to also play our part, our small part, in the air strikes on ISIS/Daesh in Syria as well as in Iraq.

As I have said, bombing on its own is not the solution and tomorrow’s House of Commons vote must not be seen that way. We also need to understand that the refugee crisis- the worst we have seen in Europe since the Second World War- will not be solved unless the Syrian crisis is resolved. To do this means a wider strategy to ensure a safe, stable and democratic Syria and the removal of ISIS/Daesh who have forced thousands to flee their homes and an end to the civil war that allows them to operate as they do, as well as an end to Assad’s oppression. I and the Liberal Democrats have been right to call for us as a nation to do our bit to assist those feeling persecution and violence, but in the end it is hollow to do so when doing nothing to tackle the reasons for the people being forced to be refugees in the first place. So we must get to the situation where hundreds of thousands of Syrians are not having to abandon their home country and seek refuge elsewhere.

Yes, we must continue to show our compassion to people in desperate need- imagine being in their shoes. But Syrians, like each of us, want to live in their own home country, not be driven away from it. So while resettling Syrian refugees, we must also work to get the stability in Syria itself. Remember, these refugees had their family, friends, jobs and schools in Syria. They will want to try to return to that and rebuild the lives they had. It is therefore not enough to simply call for resettling refugees when we all know the only solution is this: a stable Syria that millions of people do not have to flee from in the first place. That must be our ultimate goal that we work towards and I see my decision as part of that.

So I hope that explains my position and how I and colleagues have come to this very difficult decision. I accept that people will have different views on this, but those of us making the decision tomorrow are the ones who have to actually vote on the motion before us and it is a decision that whatever I do will weigh heavily upon us, as it must, but I and colleagues will do what we think is the right thing for the country, as either way it will it will be difficult for the party.

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

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10 Comments

  • Pam Schwarz 2nd Dec '15 - 2:16pm

    To Liberal Democrat MPs,
    Please vote against the motion to bomb Syria, you, Tim Farrow, and all the other MPs.
    Instead of bombing, please
    —Stop arming any of the parties fighting in Syria
    —Build cooperation, for peace, among nations
    We still have the legacy of our own, recent, civil war in Northern Ireland. We, of all nations should understand the need for listening, sensitivity, a willingness to change one’s existing view. Please apply that awareness to this present debate, and vote NO to bombing Syria, take the other action which I suggest, instead.

  • Robin Speed 2nd Dec '15 - 3:12pm

    There are so many reasons not to support Cameron’s pointless bombing campaign today – not least is to ask where is the money coming from (and going to!) for all this and how did we magically find this. The urgency here has all the fingerprints of the arms manufacturers lobby, just as with Iraq. Yet at the same time Cameron cosies up Saudi Arabia to supper the arms lobby, even though much of the Isis finance is coming from Saudi.

    But one has to ask, when Cameron is actively working to harm the world by increasing fossil fuel use in the UK, how anyone can trust his motives here?

    Since the election the Lib Dems seem to have rejected every opportunity to be on the right side of the argument and point out the glaring inconsistencies in Cameron’s ridiculous ideas.

  • Our party deserves better exposure, the quality of our representation is all the better for its lack of quantity, for it s more evident. Admirable contributions. I feel as the many who are against their view do, loathing for violence of any kind. Where we face it we must deal with it . We are facing and looking into the face of evil and cannot look away . The military endeavour is only part of it. It is a necessary part ,a view I have come to with reluctance as have others.

  • “The question is how we remove Assad, ”
    Who are we? Removing Assad won’t end the civil war,the causes are deeper and more complex than one ruling family.
    In fact Bashar al-Assad started his rule in a more liberal way.Today there is no end in sight of the conflict and certainly no possibility of any real democracy ever being established there.
    Today on the BBC World TV in “What the papers say” on the news I heard the most idiotic comments I have ever heard about Syria. If views of that idiot are the thinking among business people in the UK then I really wonder what kind of country Britain will become. Surely they could have found someone who actually knows something about Syria.

  • John Barrett 2nd Dec '15 - 5:23pm

    Norman Lamb was not at the meeting last night where our MPs agreed to support the Government (as he was in Oldham) and is planning to listen to the debate today before he decides how to vote.

    There is still a chance that at least one Lib-Dem MP might vote against the Government’s motion.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Dec '15 - 5:29pm

    I am surprised all the MPs are rushing to write these things which are a dreadful hostage to fortune…I forecast that in a few months time the party leadership will be changing its mind when it all falls apart. Still, we will all have today’s stuff to consult and see just how wrong people were. If I am right, of course.

    Tony Greaves

  • I am so disappointed to hear that the last remaining Liberal Democrats have taken the decision to support the vote in favour of bombing in Syria. I am glad to hear that you reject the Prime Minister’s outrageous statement that those not in favour are terrorist sympathisers. However, to claim that being in the ‘no’ camp is apathetic and insufficient is simplistic and shortsighted…. not something I would expect from you.
    When the attacks happened in Paris, I recall it was reported that the perpetrators shouted ‘this is for Syria’ before blowing themselves up, according to a witness. Wasn’t France already bombing Syria prior to the attacks? I would be concerned that joining in, will make us more of a target. In addition, the Syrian conflict is complex and not just about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. We would be diving into a thick political soup – in faux allegiance with countries whose agendas and diplomatic records are varied, and whose preferred outcomes are at odds. Ultimately, ‘IS’ is an idea; a cause. The ‘State’ that they refer to is, perhaps unbeknown to them even, more of a ‘state’ of mind than a geographical location; they are not just in Syria, they are all around, so far in relatively small numbers. You can’t bomb minds, but you can encourage more people to go over to their way of thinking by stirring up hatred, creating victims, dividing populations – I believe THAT is what bombing will do, targeted or not.
    Moreover, I think this is something that the public should be consulted on – it is us after all who will suffer the consequences of any action or indeed inaction.
    David Cameron’s party is presenting the argument FOR bombing, but do you honestly believe the very group of politicians who destroyed the Liberal Democrats for their own political gain? And who have tried to use this issue to do the same to the Labour Party? Since they trampled over you into their own majority government, they have shown their true colours through various reform proposals. They consistently lack compassion, insight and integrity. I have been a Liberal Democrat supporter and voter all my life. I am sad to say that I now feel I can no longer relate to your party. I urge you to reconsider.

  • I believe in the Liberal Democrat cause and I believed that the general election result was so undeserved. But to support the Tories on something as significant as this – twice – shows you haven’t learnt your lesson at all.

    I believed that the coalition with the Tories really did help to curb the excesses of their ideology, and we are seeing the impact of our loss in full force now. But there are some things – some core, deep rooted principles, that we must stand firm on or you will lose our support.

    This is not about being pacifists, it’s about making the right decision. You’ve made me ashamed to be a Lib Dem and I resent that.

  • Well done our MPs. Hilary Benn’s speech put the case brilliantly and I am glad our MPs used their intelligence and judgement to reach this very liberal decision.

  • Denis Mollison 3rd Dec '15 - 10:09pm

    @Mark
    FFS – Hilary Benn’s speech was an ornamental version of “this is an outrage we must do something”; his father is probably spinning in his grave.

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