Labour MP writes letter explaining OPPOSITION TO SYRIA AIR STRIKES

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By labour MP: Wes Streeting

This evening I have written to members of Ilford North Constituency Labour Party to set out my position on Syria ahead of a likely vote. I will be replying to the 50 or so e-mails I have received on this and thought I'd share it here for other interested residents.
Best wishes,
Dear friends,

In the coming week, it is very likely that MPs will be asked to authorise the extension of military air strikes against Daesh/ISIL into Syria. No decision has weighed more heavily on my conscience and so I want to write to you to outline my position ahead of the vote.

The civil war in Syria is complex and devastating. The home of some of the world’s greatest ancient civilisations has been reduced to rubble and amongst the ashes lie the corpses of more than 250,000 Syrian people. The biggest butcher in Syria has been Bashir al-Assad, though the Syrian government is just one of many actors bringing death and destruction to innocent Syrians. Against this backdrop, it is not hard to understand why so many Syrians have been prepared to risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean sea for sanctuary in Europe, though it is impossible to imagine what they have been through.

Events in Paris have underlined the threat that Daesh/ISIL pose to our own safety and security closer at home. In the past six months, our security and intelligence services have prevented seven attacks on British soil. The Head of MI5 and the Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee have confirmed that the UK is in the top tier of targets for their terrorist activity. Daesh/ISIL combatants, foreign and domestic, plan to attack us regardless of whether we extend air strikes into Syria. The deadly and fanatical nature of this death cult requires a multi-faceted response to wipe out their military capability and erode their base of support.
With this in mind, I have maintained an open mind. I have listened very carefully to the case that the Prime Minister has made for military action, I have listened to colleagues in Parliament, sought independent advice and expertise and considered the 50 or so representations made by people from Ilford North. The question for me is whether extending air strikes into Syria is both in our national interest and in the interest of innocent civilians in Syria.

We need a comprehensive strategy to bring about an end to the Syrian civil war and defeat Daesh/ISIL. For me, this must include:

• A successful diplomatic effort to secure a stable and orderly transition from an Assad-led Syrian government to a national government including the religious, ethnic and political diversity of the Syrian population. Russian influence here will be critical.
• A co-ordinated humanitarian response to the devastation and displacement affecting the Syrian people
• A major programme of reconstruction to help the Syrians rebuild their country
• A military response to defeat Daesh/ISIL, with ground forces drawn from the region (not the USA or UK) with the international community providing relevant support – including air support

The Prime Minister’s statement this week went a long way to addressing these issues, though some significant concerns remain about the strategy to defeat Daesh/ISIL. Air strikes alone will not work. The Prime Minister accepts that ground troops will be needed to defeat Daesh/ISIL and suggested that the Kurds and Free Syrian Army could provide ground troops. I do not believe that the Kurdish forces or the Free Syrian Army have the capability to provide the ground offensive against Daesh/ISIL that we need. Without a diplomatic initiative to build a larger coalition of regional ground troops, I fear we will be inevitably drawn into a quagmire. These concerns have been echoed by Julian Lewis MP, the Conservative Chair of the Defence Select Committee, amongst others.

I am pleased that the Prime Minister’s statement made reference to the humanitarian effort and emphasised the need for investment in reconstruction – major failings in the UK’s approach in Iraq and Libya. Nonetheless, I do not think the case for urgent and immediate UK military involvement in air strikes, ahead of the conclusion of the diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the Syrian civil war, has been made. ON THIS BASIS, IT IS VERY LIKELY THAT I WILL VOTE AGAINST MILITARY ACTION IN A COMMONS VOTE.

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