Tim Farron speaks in Syria debate: We’ll be learning wrong lessons from history if we don’t stand with refugees & eradicate Daesh

Here is Tim Farron’s speech in full from today’s debate on Syria from Hansard:

As has been mentioned already, the spectre of the 2003 Iraq war hangs over the debate in this House and in the whole country. In 2003, the late and very great Charles Kennedy led the opposition to the Iraq war and he did so proudly. That was a counterproductive and illegal war, and Daesh is a consequence of the foolish decision taken then. Charles Kennedy was also right, however, in calling, in the 1990s, for military intervention in Bosnia to end a genocide there. I am proud of Charles on both counts.

My instincts, like those of others, are always to be anti-war and anti-conflict. In many cases, the automatic instinct will be that we should react straightaway and go straight in. Others will say that under no terms, and not in my name, should there ever be intervention. It is right to look at this through the prism of what is humanitarian, what is internationalist, what is liberal, what is right and what will be effective. I set out five principles that I have put to the Prime Minister. I will not go into all of them here, with the time I have available, but they are available on the website and people can go and have a look at them. My very clear sense is that any reasonable person would judge them to have been broadly met.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con):
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, he and his party supported airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq and that today’s vote is about extending those airstrikes across the border that Daesh itself does not recognise, into Syria, to degrade Daesh as far as possible?

Tim Farron:
I am happy to confirm that.

For me, and probably for many other Members, this has been one of the toughest decisions, if not the toughest decision, I have had to take in my time in this place. The five principles that we have set out have been broadly met, but I will not give unconditional support to the Government as I vote with them tonight. There are huge questions on the financing of Daesh by states such as Turkey, with the trade that is going on there. There are huge questions on the protection of civilians. Yes, a ceasefire, as discussed in Vienna, is the ultimate civilian protection, but we absolutely must continue to press for safe zones to be established in Syria. I continue to be very concerned about the lack of political and state involvement, notwithstanding what the King of Jordan said overnight, by close-by regional states, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. I continue to be concerned about our failure to take our fair share of refugees, as part of the overall EU plan. I welcome what the Prime Minister said earlier, but I want a lot more than just “looking into” taking 3,000 orphan children from refugee camps. I want them here in Britain.

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP):
I am very grateful to the Liberal Democrat leader for giving way. Given that he has pressed so hard for the Government to take more refugees, why is he content to bomb that country when the Prime Minister has refused to give that assurance? This is ridiculous.

Tim Farron:
I will come to that in a moment. The reality is that this is a very tough—an incredibly tough—call.

A final point I wanted to press the Prime Minister on concerns the funding of Daesh from within UK sources. I am very pleased to hear that there will now be a full public and open inquiry. It must cut off that which fuels this evil, evil death cult.

This is the toughest call I have ever had to make, certainly in this House. What pushes me in the direction of voting for action is, above all, United Nations resolution 2249, which calls for us to eradicate the safe haven that Daesh has in Syria. The resolution does not just permit, but urges this country and all members capable of doing so, to take all necessary action to get rid of Daesh. If we had just been asked to bomb Syria, I would be voting no: I would be out there demonstrating in between speeches and signing up to emails from the Stop the War coalition. This is not, however, a case of just bombing; this is standing with the United Nations and the international community to do what is right by people who are the most beleaguered of all. I was so proud and moved to tears when I watched at Wembley the other week English fans singing La Marseillaise—probably very badly indeed, but doing it with gusto—and standing shoulder to shoulder with our closest friends and allies. How could we then not act today, when asked to put our money where our mouth is?

What has really pushed me into the position where I feel, on balance, that we have to back military action against Daesh is my personal experiences in the refugee camps this summer. I cannot pretend not to have been utterly and personally moved and affected by what I saw. I could give anecdote after anecdote that would break Members’ hearts, but let me give just one in particular. A seven-year-old lad was lifted from a dinghy on the beach at Lesbos. My Arabic interpreter said to me, “That lad has just said to his dad, ‘Daddy are ISIL here? Daddy are ISIL here?’” I cannot stand in this House and castigate the Prime Minister for not taking enough refugees and for Britain not standing as tall as it should in the world, opening its arms to the desperate as we have done so proudly for many, many decades and throughout our history, if we do not also do everything in our power to eradicate that which is the source of the terror from which people are feeling.

We are absolutely under the spectre of a shocking, illegal and counterproductive war in Iraq. It is a lesson from history that we must learn from. The danger today is that too many people will be learning the wrong lessons from history if we choose not to stand with those refugees and not to stand as part of the international community of nations. This is a very tough call, but on balance it is right to take military action to degrade and to defeat this evil death cult.

And here is some of the Twitter feedback:

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

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • I never expected Tim of all people to let us down like this, and I am very disappointed.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Dec '15 - 5:25pm

    A really basic flaw in this argument is conflating the bombing issue with the refugee issue. And pretending that by supporting bombing we can persuade the government to be significantly more generous on refugees. This is all clear nonsense.

    The fact is that most refugees who are asked their views are against more bombing of their towns and villages. Most Syrian groups in this country are against more bombing.

    The fact is that more bombing will result in more refugees. But so would sustained attacks by ground troops. So the refugee issue has to be tackled much better. but Europe as a whole is trying to turn away its eyes and minds – with the UK among the worst offenders along with such leading defenders of human rights as Hungary and Slovakia.

    Tony Greaves

  • Steve Comer 2nd Dec '15 - 6:00pm

    I think we’re being given a very one-sided and simplistic view of this conflict, trhese two artilces are worth a look for anyone who wants to understand the complexities of the mess we are getting ourselves into:


    The present situation has too many echos of the sequence of events over 100 years ago that led to the Great War.

  • Peter Hayes 2nd Dec '15 - 6:09pm

    Tony, the refugees leave for Europe for many reasons. If they are Christian or the ‘wrong’ sort of Muslim they are at as much risk from ISIS as they are from western bombs or barrel bombs. The calculation has to be made as doing nothing leaves them at risk from ISIS and bombing creates another risk. If UK uses precision bombing, particularly in favour of cutting supply routes and control centres to help the Kurds I do not care where they attack as long as ‘collateral’ damage is minimised.

  • Obviously I support Tim’s sympathy with the refugees and am proud that our party led the way towards a more sympathetic approach to this issue. But Tim’s use of this in his pro-war speech was specious and indeed offensive. For every refugee he spoke to who had fled their home in Syria, there are countless more who remain in the country and are entirely innocent of any involvement with ISIS and terrorism, How do we think today’s decision – and the action already being taken in Syria by our ‘allies’ – will impact on their life chances and quality of life?

  • I think Tony Greaves is right, and that was only one flaw. Lost count of number of times Tim claimed his criteria for military intervention had all been broadly met.Broadly? Political speak for I’ve changed my mind and I am going against my own criteria. No questioning of the fiction of an army of 70000 standing ready to fight as a unified force. Cameron is determined to go to war for nothing more than a desire for the UK to sit at the top table, to be seen as a global force and to be supporting USA. Tim has been taken in. Sad day for liberal politics.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Dec '15 - 6:27pm

    Tim’s speech brought a tear to my eye, but I have to say the debate in parliament is frustrating me quite a lot. Some people nitpicking the plan act like there is going to be another opportunity next month or in a few months time. It’s a bit like why Australia still has a Monarchy: most wanted to get rid of it, but they couldn’t agree on an alternative so they are stuck with their worst option. Split support leads to opposition winning or at least getting a propaganda uplift.

  • Much has been said on this site on both sides of the issue. What has not I think so far been noted is that the two of our MPs who have not yet (to my knowledge) put out statements about bombing Syria, and who may therefore be rather more undecided on which way to vote than their colleagues – Norman Lamb and Mark Williams – are not customarily regarded as being on the left of the parliamentary party. This neatly makes the point that the question of whether to bomb in Syria or not is not a straightforward right-left issue, and this is something which seems to have been wholly missed by those Lib Dems who have posted on this or on other sites denouncing those of our MPs who are likely to vote tonight with the Tories.

  • David Allen 2nd Dec '15 - 6:34pm

    Following Tony Greaves: I fear that what Tim is really saying amounts to “Look, I’m a lefty on refugees, but I’m quite right-wing on bombing, so hey presto, I’ve triangulated myself into the centre, which is just where I want to position myself.”

    Trouble is, far too many of the voting public can recognise a cynical calculating piece of political positioning when they see it. They’ve seen far too much of that sort of thing from our last leader, which is why we sank in public esteem. I thought Tim was better than that.

    It plays particularly badly because most speakers in Parliament from both sides (Cameron’s “terrorist” name-calling excepted) have been sincere, thoughtful and honest, as befits the question under debate. Appealing to facile emotion by talking about child refugees, when you are actually advocating a bombing campaign, just risks sounding cheap.

  • You missed the many other Tweets that were not quite so gushing such as mine:

    @timfarron How will bombing in Syria lessen the flow of refugees you keep mentioning and make their lot in life better? #LibDem #bbcdp

  • It was reported on the BBC that Nick Clegg has had dinner twice with David Cameron in the run up to this vote. It seems things are decided in smoke-free restaurants these days.

  • Constant comparisons with Iraq seem puzzling. Attacking the terrorists of Islamic State is much more comparable with Afghanistan, which of course Lib Dems supported, so in that sense what has happened today is not inconsistent with the past.

    Farron also exaggerates the extent to which Charles Kennedy “led” the opposition to the Iraq war – a claim which would not go down too well with those people who were unconditionally against the war, whereas Kennedy offered to support it so long as a few conditions were met (the main one being a new UN resolution). Somehow over the years, the Lib Dems have rewritten this history to make it appear that they were not only leading the anti-war movement, but had even foreseen what a catastrophe the war would prove to be for the whole region.

  • Clegg certainly appears to have jumped the gun in sharing our MPs’ position with the press.

    If our party doesn’t soon discover the ability to at least start to learn from our past mistakes, I will start to fear for our future….

  • Is it possible that Tim Farron in consulting with his colleagues found that the majority of them were set to support Cameron and has taken the view that it’s better to be seen leading from the front rather than trying to counter from the back?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Dec '15 - 7:32pm

    @David Allen: Nobody who watched Tim’s speech today could doubt for a moment that this is an absolutely sincere position and not some cynical piece of political manoeuvring and it’s not fair to say so.

  • Peter Hayes 2nd Dec '15 - 8:01pm

    I feel ashamed about some of the posts here. Some seem to be saying ISIS can do what they like as long as we can keep the purity of our anti war position. If you are against war say how you will defend Christians and the ‘wrong’ sort of Muslims in the ISIS controlled areas.

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Dec '15 - 8:13pm

    Tony Greaves 2nd Dec ’15 – 5:25pm Yes, but the UK government is thinking about the UK’s international obligations and jurisdiction, hence the problem with the small number of people who have arrived onto British sovreign bases in Cyprus.
    David Cameron has promised that bombing will produce no civilian casualties. MPs seem not to have noticed, surely they should have been in the Commons for the PM’s speech, were they writing their own speeches at the time? The PM has promised to think again about the number of refugees to be accepted. The Home Secretary looked glum at the prospect, but they should also be considering whether they can take vulnerable people, including unaccompanied children, who do not meet the current criteria, because, for instance, they are in the Balkans.

  • Have just listened to Hilary Benn’s speech.

    Whatever side one takes on this issue , it has to be said it was a truly remarkable tour de force. and one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard in the Commons.

    I think I have just seen the next Leader of the Labour Party….. and that might not be too far in the future.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Dec '15 - 10:35pm

    Peter Hayes – of course there are many reasons for refugees leaving (and the majority so far have been fleeing Assad’s attacks. I just said that more bombing is likely to produce more refugees.

    Tony Greaves

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Dec '15 - 11:22pm

    Neither Britain nor the USA have shown any intention of taking any serious action to eradicate ISIL/Daesh.

    The only people who are at all serious in this respect are the Russians who are clearly doing this on behalf of Assad who is a far nastier person than anything ISIS have yet coughed up.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Dec '15 - 12:14am

    Tony Greaves 2nd Dec ’15 – 10:35pm After the vote the RAF have also been saying that they have had no civilain casualties in their bombing raids in Iraq! This might explain the PM refusing to disclose the orders the aircrews are given and the flights returning to base without using an y weapons.
    Apart from an attack on a vehicle allegedly containing Jihadi John and one other Daesh person there does seem to be very little actual military action, compared with the huge amaount that Russia is doing for President Assad, son of Assad, Baath.
    This also helps to keep the cost down, keep up with the UK’s friends and allies, etc.
    If today’s vote was more political and diplomatic than military, the UK can start doing what David Davis said and start making demands of our allies, starting with Turkey.

  • Well spoken Tim. And I agree with Mark Wright. The “certitude of the finger jabbers” is a superb phrase.

    As for the idea there were votes to be had in opting one way or the other, that seems highly improbable. And it had nothing to do with left and right.

  • David Allen 3rd Dec '15 - 11:34am


    You may be right in what you say – that Tim spoke purely from sincere feelings, and the fact that this then left him representing a “balanced centrist” position (pro-refugees but also pro-war) was a kind of accidental consequence. Nevertheless, if you are a politician, you can’t just blurt out your feelings. You have to think about the upshot of what you might say. I think that as Tony Greaves said, the speech conflated two separate issues. It looked too much like a triangulation exercise.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • John McHugo
    @Nonconformistradical Declaring an interest - writing as a Catholic (and a Lib Dem), You might be interested to see that the spirituality or, perhaps, the...
  • Martin
    Peter Martin: Each EU state decides for itself how it regulates trade from outside the EU, parcels sent from UK, Switzerland, America, Australia etc. to Belgiu...
  • Mick Taylor
    As a member of a small largely Christian sect, the Quakers, I have never been able to understand the reason for an established church somehow raised above other...
  • Nonconformistradical
    Declaring an interest - writing as an atheist @James Moore "Faith gives us moral guidance and a sense of duty to our fellow human beings." Why do you nee...
  • Michael Berridge
    William Wallace has made "a promise that the Lords would do everything it could to prevent the forthcoming Retained EU Law Bill from diverging too far from comm...