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Civilians in Syria

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:20 pm on 12th October 2015.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 10:20 pm, 12th October 2015

I congratulate Jo Cox on securing this important debate. She brings a huge amount of expertise to the House, which is very welcome. I have just returned from the UN General Assembly, where this subject was very much on the agenda. She went into a huge amount of detail, but I am sorry that she chose to wander down a bit of a political path. I will write to her with more details on the issue of British leadership. As my hon. Friend Bob Stewart said, unless we have a UN resolution, it is very hard to march forward. I am afraid that, on more than one occasion, either China or Russia has vetoed attempts to move this situation forward. I also disagree with her about the choice between ISIS or Assad. We have never made that statement—quite the opposite, in fact.

I am sorry that we are debating this matter for only 30 minutes. The sheer number of Members in the Chamber on a Monday evening on a one-line Whip shows that this is a very important matter. I hope that the usual channels are listening, and I urge them to consider a far longer debate on the subject. [Interruption.] Let me finish. We are meeting our 2% of GDP commitment and our 0.7% official development assistance commitment. With a long history in the middle east, we have the ability and desire to do more to assist in this terrible conflict, but we seek consensus over how we might do that. A fuller debate would explore how these matters might be pursued in more detail.

The Syrian civil war is now in its fifth year. As the hon. Lady has said, 250,000 people have been killed, almost 8 million displaced internally and more than 4 million refugees created. This is a crisis caused and fuelled by the Assad regime, which is responsible for the vast majority of deaths. Almost 90% of the civilian deaths are a result of the regime’s indiscriminate bombing, its shelling of urban areas, its siege tactics and its use of chemical and toxic substances. This instability has fuelled a migration crisis that affects neighbouring countries, the wider region and Europe as well.

Assad’s failure to recognise the Sunni people, who make up two thirds of the country’s population, has acted as a recruiting sergeant for ISIL. Today, ISIL poses a threat not just to the region but wider afield to the UK as well. The horrific attacks in Sousse, Kuwait, France, Australia, Turkey and elsewhere demonstrate that the threat knows no borders. But alone, Assad has neither the intent nor the capability to defeat ISIL. The ultimate solution both to the migration crisis and the threats emanating from Syria is a political transition that involves a mechanism for Assad to step down. It is for the Syrian people to decide exactly how that happens. It may be part of a transition process, but the process cannot be open-ended, and Assad can have no part in Syria’s future.