Mr Speaker, I said I would respond personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee report on extending British military operations to Syria. I have done so today, and copies of my response have been made available to every Member of the House.
The Committee produced a comprehensive report that asked a series of important questions. I have tried to listen very carefully to the questions and views expressed by Members on both sides of the House, and I want to answer all the relevant questions today. There are different ways of putting them, but they boil down to this: why? Why us? Why now? Is what we are contemplating legal? Where are the ground troops to help us achieve our objectives? What is the strategy that brings together everything we are doing, particularly in Syria? Is there an end to this conflict, and is there a plan for what follows?
Let me deal with each of those questions as directly as I can. First, why? The reason for acting is the very direct threat that ISIL poses to our country and to our way of life. ISIL has attacked Ankara, Beirut and, of course, Paris, as well as likely blowing up a Russian plane with 224 people on board. It has already taken the lives of British hostages, and inspired the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7, on the beaches of Tunisia—and, crucially, it has repeatedly tried to attack us right here in Britain. In the last 12 months, our police and security services have disrupted no fewer than seven terrorist plots to attack the UK, every one of which was either linked to ISIL or inspired by its propaganda, so I am in no doubt that it is in our national interest for action to be taken to stop it—and stopping it means taking action in Syria, because Raqqa is its headquarters.
But why us? My first responsibility as Prime Minister—and our first job in this House—is to keep the British people safe. We have the assets to do that and we can significantly extend the capabilities of the international coalition forces. That is one reason why members of the international coalition, including President Obama and President Hollande, have made it clear to me that they want Britain to stand with them in joining in air strikes in Syria, as well as Iraq. These are our closest allies, and they want our help.
Partly, this is about our capabilities. As we are showing in Iraq, the RAF can carry out what is called “dynamic targeting”, whereby our pilots can strike the most difficult targets at rapid pace and with extraordinary precision, and provide vital battle-winning close air support to local forces on the ground. We have the Brimstone precision missile system, which enables us to strike accurately, with minimal collateral damage—something that even the Americans do not have. RAPTOR—the reconnaissance airborne pod for our Tornado aircraft—has no rival; it currently gathers 60% of the coalition’s entire tactical reconnaissance in Iraq, and it is also equipped for strikes. In addition, our Reaper drones are providing up to 30% of the intelligence in Syria, but they are not currently able to use their low-collateral, high-precision missile systems. We also have the proven ability to sustain our operations—not just for weeks, but, if necessary, for months into the future.
Of course we have those capabilities, but the most important answer to the question, “Why us?”, is, I believe, even more fundamental: we should not be content with outsourcing our security to our allies. If we believe that action can help protect us, then, with our allies, we should be part of that action, not standing aside from it. From that moral point comes a fundamental question: if we will not act now, when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking, “If not now, when?”
That leads to the next question: why now? The first answer to that is, of course, because of the grave danger that ISIL poses to our security—a danger that has clearly intensified in recent weeks—but there are additional reasons why action now is so important. Just look at what has changed—not just the attack in Paris, but the fact that the world has come together and agreed a UN Security Council resolution. There is a real political process under way. This could lead to a new Government in Syria, with whom we can work to defeat ISIL for good. But as I explained to the House yesterday, we cannot wait for that to be complete before we begin acting to degrade ISIL and reducing its capability to attack us.
Let us be clear about the military objectives that we are pursuing. Yes, we want to defeat the terrorists by dismantling their networks, stopping their funding, targeting their training camps and taking out those plotting terrorist attacks against the UK, but there is a broader objective. For as long as ISIL can pedal the myth of a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it will be a rallying call for Islamist extremists all around the world, and that makes us less safe. Just as we have reduced the scale and size of the so-called caliphate in Iraq—increasingly pushing it out of Iraq—so we need to do the same thing in Syria.
Indeed, another reason for action now is that the success in Iraq in squeezing the so-called caliphate is put at risk by our failure to act in Syria. This border is not recognised by ISIL, and we seriously hamper our efforts if we stop acting when we reach the Syrian border, so when we come to the question, “Why now?”, we have to ask ourselves whether the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of taking action. Every day we fail to act is a day when ISIL can grow stronger and more plots can be undertaken. That is why all the advice I have received—the military advice, the diplomatic advice and the security advice—all says, yes, that the risks of inaction are greater.
Some have asked specifically whether taking action could make the UK more of a target for ISIL attacks, so let me tell the House that the judgment of the director general of the Security Service and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee is that the UK is already in the top tier of countries that ISIL is targeting, so I am clear that the only way to deal with that reality is to address the threat we face, and to do so now.
Let me turn to the question of legality. It is a long-standing constitutional convention that we do not publish our formal legal advice, but the document I have published today shows in some detail the clear legal basis for military action against ISIL in Syria. It is founded on the right of self-defence as recognised in article 51 of the United Nations charter. The right of self-defence may be exercised individually where it is necessary to the UK’s own defence, and of course collectively in the defence of our friends and allies.
The main basis of the global coalition’s actions against ISIL in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq. Iraq has a legitimate Government—one that we support and help. There is a solid basis of evidence on which to conclude, first, that there is a direct link between the presence and activities of ISIL in Syria and its ongoing attack on Iraq, and secondly, that the Assad regime is unwilling and/or unable to take action necessary to prevent ISIL’s continuing attack on Iraq, or indeed attacks on us. It is also clear that ISIL’s campaign against the UK and our allies has reached the level of an “armed attack”, such that force may lawfully be used in self-defence to prevent further atrocities being committed by ISIL.
This is further underscored by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2249. We should be clear about what this resolution means and what it says. The whole world came together, including all five members of the Security Council, to agree this resolution unanimously. The resolution states that ISIL
“constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.
It calls for member states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL and, crucially, it says that we should
“eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.
Turning to the question of which ground forces will assist us, in Iraq the answer is clear. We have the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga. In Syria, the situation is more complex. However, as the report I am publishing today shows, we believe that there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally of the Free Syrian Army, who do not belong to extremist groups, and with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on ISIL.
In addition, Kurdish armed groups have shown themselves capable of taking territory, holding it and administering it, and, crucially, of relieving the suffering that the civilian population had endured under ISIL control. The Syrian Kurds have successfully defended Kurdish areas in northern Syria and retaken territory around the city of Kobane.
Moderate armed Sunni Arabs have proved capable of defending territory north of Aleppo. They stopped ISIL’s attempts to capture the main humanitarian border crossing with Turkey and sweep into Idlib province. In the south, the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army has consolidated its control over significant areas, and has worked to prevent terrorists from operating.
The people I have talked about are ground troops. They need our help; when they get it, they succeed, so in my view, we should do more to help from the air. Those who ask questions about ground troops are absolutely right to do so. The full answer cannot be achieved until there is a new Syrian Government who represent all the Syrian people—not just Sunni, Shi’a and Alawite, but Christian, Druze and others. It is this new Government who will be the natural partner for our forces in defeating ISIL for good. We cannot defeat ISIL simply from the air, or purely with military action alone. It requires a full political settlement. The question is: can we wait for that settlement before we take action? Again, my answer is no.
On the question of whether this action is part of an overall strategy, the answer is yes. Our approach has four pillars. First, our counter-extremism strategy means that we have a comprehensive plan to prevent and foil plots at home, and to address the poisonous extremist ideology that is the root cause of the threat we face. The second pillar is our support for the diplomatic and political process. We should be clear about that process. Many people across this House have rightly said how vital it is to have all the key regional players around the table, including Iran and Russia. We are now seeing Iran and Saudi Arabia sitting around the same table as America and Russia, as well as France, Turkey and Britain. All of us are working towards the transition to a new Government in Syria.
The third pillar is the military action that I am describing to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses; it is working in Iraq, and I believe that it can work in Syria. The fourth pillar is immediate humanitarian support and, even more crucially, longer-term stabilisation. The House has heard many times that Britain has so far given over £1.1 billion—by far the largest commitment of any European country, and second only to the United States of America. That is helping to reduce the need for Syrians to attempt the perilous journey to Europe. The donor conference that I am hosting in February together with Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the UN will help further.
The House is rightly asking more questions about whether there will be a proper post-conflict reconstruction effort to support a new Syrian Government when they emerge. Britain’s answer to that question is absolutely yes. I can tell the House that Britain would be prepared to contribute at least another £1 billion for that task.
All these elements—counter-terrorism, political and diplomatic, military and humanitarian—need to happen together to achieve a long-term solution in Syria. We know that peace is a process, not an event. I am clear that it cannot be achieved through a military assault on ISIL alone; it also requires the removal of Assad through a political transition. But I am also clear about the sequencing that needs to take place. This is an ISIL-first strategy.
What of the end goal? The initial objective is to damage ISIL and reduce its capacity to do us harm. I believe that that can, in time, lead to its eradication. No one predicted ISIL’s rise, and we should not accept that it is somehow impossible to bring it to an end. It is not what the people of Iraq and Syria want; it does not represent the true religion of Islam; and it is losing ground in Iraq, following losses in Sinjar and Baiji.
We are not naive about the complexity of the task. It will require patience and persistence, and our work will not be complete until we have reached our true end goal, which is having Governments in both Iraq and Syria who can command the confidence of all their peoples. In Syria, that ultimately means a Government without Assad. As Ban Ki-moon has said:
“Missiles may kill terrorists. But good governance kills terrorism.”
That applies so clearly to both Iraq and Syria.
As we discuss all these things, people also want to know that we have learned the lessons of previous conflicts. Whatever anyone thought of the Iraq war, terrible mistakes were made in its aftermath in dismantling the state and the institutions of that country. We must never make those mistakes again. The political process in Syria will, in time, deliver new leadership, and we must support that transition. We are not in the business of dismantling the Syrian state or its institutions.
In Libya, the state and its institutions had been hollowed out after 40 years of dictatorship. When the dictatorship went, the institutions rapidly collapsed. The big difference between Libya and Syria is that in Syria this time we have firm international commitment from all the backers of a future Syrian Government around the table at the Vienna talks. The commitment is clear: to preserve and develop the state in Syria, and allow a new representative Government to govern for all its people.
I have attempted to answer the main questions: why? Why now? Why us? Is it legal? What are the ground forces? Is there a strategy? What is the end point and plan for reconstruction? I know that this is a highly complex situation, and Members on all sides of the House will have other questions that I look forward to trying to answer this morning.
One question will be about the confused and confusing situation in Syria with regard to Russia’s intervention. Let me reassure the House that the American-led combined air operations centre has a memorandum of understanding with the Russians. That enables daily contact and pragmatic military planning to ensure the safety of all coalition forces, and that would include our brave RAF pilots. Another question will be about whether we are taking sides in a Sunni versus Shi’a conflict, but that is simply not the case. Yes, ISIL is a predominantly Sunni organisation, but it is killing Sunni and Shi’a alike. Our vision for the future of Syria, as with Iraq, is not a sectarian entity, but one that is governed in the interests of all its people. We therefore wholeheartedly welcome the presence of states with both Sunni and Shi’a majorities at the Vienna talks, and their support for international action both against ISIL and towards a diplomatic solution in Syria.
The House will also want to know what we are doing about the financing of ISIL. The document sets that out; it includes intercepting smugglers, sealing borders, and enforcing sanctions to stop people trading with ISIL. Ultimately, ISIL is able to generate income through its control of territory, so although we are working with international partners to squeeze the finances wherever we can, it is the rolling back of ISIL’s territory that will ultimately cut off its finances.
Two of the most complex questions in an undoubtedly complex situation are these. First, will acting against ISIL in Syria help to bring about transition? I believe the answer is yes, not least because there cannot be genuine transition without maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria. With its current actions, ISIL completely denies that integrity. Crucially, destroying ISIL helps the moderate forces, and those moderate forces will be crucial to Syria’s future. Secondly, does our view that Assad must go help in the fight against ISIL, or—as some claim—does that confuse the picture? The expert advice that I have could not be clearer: we will not beat ISIL if we waiver in our view that ultimately Assad must go. We cannot win over majority Sunni opinion, which is vital for the long-term stability of Syria, if we suddenly to change our position.
In the end it comes back to one main question: should we take action? All those who say that ultimately we need a diplomatic solution and a transition to a new Government in Syria are right. Working with a new representative Government is the way to eradicate ISIL in Syria in the long term, but can we wait for that to happen before we take military action? I say we cannot.
Let me be clear: there will not be a vote in this House unless there is a clear majority for action, because we will not hand a publicity coup to ISIL.
I am also clear that any motion we bring before this House will explicitly recognise that military action is not the whole answer. Proud as I am of our incredible servicemen and women, I will not pretend or overstate the significance of our potential contribution. I will not understate the complexity of this issue, nor the risks that are inevitably involved in any military action, but we do face a fundamental threat to our security. We cannot wait for a political transition. We have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands right now: and we must not shirk our responsibility for security, or hand it to others.
Throughout our history, the United Kingdom has stood up to defend our values and our way of life. We can, and we must, do so again. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for providing an advance copy of his statement, which I received earlier today.
After the despicable and horrific attacks in Paris a fortnight ago, the whole House will I am sure agree that our first priority has to be the security of people in this country. So when we consider the Prime Minister’s case for military action, the issue of whether what he proposes strengthens or undermines our security must be front and centre stage of our minds. There is no doubt that the so-called Islamic State group has imposed a reign of terror on millions in Iraq, in Syria and now in Libya. All that ISIL stands for and does is contrary to everything those of us on these Benches have struggled for over many generations. There is no doubt that it poses a threat to our own people. The question must now be whether extending the UK bombing from Iraq to Syria is likely to reduce or increase that threat, and whether it will counter or spread the terror campaign ISIL is waging in the middle east. With that in mind, I would like to put seven questions to the Prime Minister.
First, does the Prime Minister believe that extending air strikes to Syria, which is already being bombed by the United States, France, Russia and other powers, will make a significant military impact on the ground, which has so far seen ISIL gain, as well as lose, territory? Does he expect it will be a war-winning strategy, or does he think other members of the original coalition, including the Gulf states, Canada and Australia, have halted their participation?
Secondly, is the Prime Minister’s view that the air campaign against ISIL-held areas can be successful without ground forces? If not, does he believe that the Kurdish forces or the relatively marginal and remote Free Syrian Army would be in a position to take back ISIL-held territory if the air campaign were successful? Is it not more likely that other stronger, jihadist and radical Salafist forces would take over?
Thirdly, without credible or acceptable ground forces, is not the logic of an intensified air campaign mission creep and western boots on the ground? Can the Prime Minister today rule out the deployment of British ground forces to Syria?
Fourthly, does the Prime Minister believe that United Nations security resolution 2249 gives clear and unambiguous authorisation for UK air strikes? What co-ordinated action with other United Nations member states has there been under the terms of the resolution to cut off funding, oil revenues and armed supplies from ISIL into the territory it currently holds? In the absence of any co-ordinated UN military or diplomatic strategy, does he believe that more military forces over Syria could increase the risks of dangerous incidents, such as the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft by Turkish forces this week?
Fifthly, how does the Prime Minister think an extension of UK bombing would contribute to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war, which is widely believed to be the only way to ensure the defeat of ISIL in the country? The Vienna conference last weekend was a good step forward, but it has some way to go.
Sixthly, what assessment has the Prime Minister been given about the likely impact of British air strikes in Syria on the threat of terrorist attacks in Britain? What impact does he believe an intensified air campaign will have on civilian casualties—civilian casualties—in the ISIS-held territory and the wider Syrian refugee crisis, which is so enormous and so appalling?
Finally, in the light of the record of western military intervention in recent years, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, does the Prime Minister accept that UK bombing of Syria could risk more of what President Obama called “unintended consequences”, and that a lasting defeat of ISIL can be secured only by Syrians and their forces within the region?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. I very much respect his long-held views about these issues and his quite correct caution before committing to any of these actions, but I do believe that there is a good answer to the seven absolutely legitimate questions he asks.
First, on whether extending airstrikes would have a significant military impact, I tried to give a flavour in my statement of the specific things we think we would be able to do. In many ways, it is worth listening to our closest allies, the Americans and the French, who want us to take part—not just for the cover it provides, but because of the capabilities we bring. It is worth listening very closely to what they say, so my answer is, yes, we would make a military difference.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of ground forces, which I tried to tackle as fully as I could in my statement. I would guide the House that there are obviously many who want to play down the existence and the role of the Free Syrian Army. Our information and intelligence is that at least 70,000 moderate Sunni forces are able to help. We can see the help they have given, and I provided some examples in my statement.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about boots on the ground. Let me give an assurance that we are not deploying British combat forces, and we are not going to deploy British combat forces. We think that the presence of western boots on the ground would be counter-productive. That is one thing that I think we have all, collectively across the House, learned from previous conflicts. We do not want to make that mistake again.
The fourth question was whether the UN resolution is unambiguous. I believe it is. I think the language in the resolution is very clear, which is why I quoted it in some detail. The right hon. Gentleman rightly asked what else the UN was doing on sanctions, embargoes and squeezing the finances of ISIL. There was a resolution back in February, and we should continue to support all those measures.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about dangerous incidents and the potential for them. As I explained in the statement, there is a deconfliction between what Russia is doing and what the coalition is doing. Obviously, as I said yesterday, we have to get to the bottom of what happened in Turkey, but we have permission to overfly Turkish airspace, and Turkey is our ally in this conflict.
The crucial question, the right hon. Gentleman’s fifth question, was whether what we are planning will help with transition. I think the answer is a very strong yes. The existence of ISIL, or Daesh as many call it, with its so-called caliphate, is to deny the territorial integrity of both Iraq and Syria, so we cannot have a future Syria with the existence of this caliphate taking over such a large amount of its territory. When we look to the future of Syria, we know that it is going to need the involvement of moderate Sunnis, so the more we can help them, the better the chance of transition.
The right hon. Gentleman asked another very important question about the impact of action on the threat level to this country. That is why I quoted—I had their permission to do so, having cleared my statement with them—the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the head of MI5. Their view is that we are already at the very highest level we could be when it comes to threats from ISIL. Again, this is about learning the lessons of Iraq. We now have this architecture of a Joint Intelligence Committee chaired by a very senior official who has that independent view. I cleared every word of my statement, as I say, with them.
On the important question of civilian casualties, I believe that the truth of the matter is that British capabilities provide one of the best ways to reduce civilian casualties. In a year and three months of the action we have taken in Iraq, there have been no reports of civilian casualties. We believe that we have some of the most accurate weapons known to man. I think extending our activities into Syria is likely to reduce civilian casualties rather than increase them.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about unintended consequences and the recent history we have faced. We can have a bigger debate, I am sure, about the action we have had to take around the world. We have to recognise, in my view, that this poisonous narrative of Islamist extremism is a battle for our generation. We see it in Nigeria, we see it in Somalia, and, frankly, we sometimes see it in our own country. Combating it with everything we have is not just combating it by military means; it is combating it with argument, and it is combating it by taking away grievances. It is all those things together.
I believe that we have thought through the consequences of this action. When people quote President Obama, as the right hon. Gentleman did, it is worth remembering that this American President, who saw that part of his role was withdrawing America from some of these foreign entanglements and trying to take a different approach to these actions, is not only firmly behind American action in Syria, but is asking America’s oldest friend, partner and ally to help out in this vital work.
I thank my right hon. Friend for responding so comprehensively to the Foreign Affairs Committee report. Let me also thank the Chancellor, since he is present, for responding positively to our first report on the Foreign Office budget yesterday.
Some of my colleagues on the Committee returned early from the region around ISIL to hear the statement, while others are completing visits to 10 capitals in the region over the week. Acquiring a regional perspective is part of our inquiry into the coalition against ISIL, as was our initial report, which addressed the narrow issue of British air strikes over Syria. Behind that narrow issue sit the bigger questions of Britain’s full involvement in the coalition, and whether that coalition has a strategy to achieve the aim of defeating ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Does my right hon. Friend agree with the senior leaders whom we met in the region that getting the politics right in both Iraq and Syria is the immediate and overriding priority, and that we must not lose focus on Baghdad?
The Committee will discuss its collective view early next week, and we will also want to report to the House on the prospects of success for the coalition strategy in the new year. Will my right hon. Friend come before the Committee in about two months’ time to give evidence to us on the implementation of the strategy he has set out today?
In the light of Vienna and my right hon. Friend’s response to the Committee, it is now my personal view that, on balance, the country would be best served by the House supporting his judgment that the United Kingdom should play a full role in the coalition in order best to support and shape the politics, thus enabling the earliest military and eventual ideological defeat of ISIL to take place.
I thank my hon. Friend for coming back from the region to be with us in the House today, and I thank him for the report, but above all I thank him for what he has said about the decision he has reached in relation to the difficult decision we all have to make. I think he is absolutely right that any action we take must be nested in an overall strategy, which I have tried to set out today. He is also absolutely right that the politics of the region are crucial to our understanding. Most important of all, he is right about trying to ensure that Iraq makes progress towards being a more pluralistic and solid country that does not face the risk of ISIL. As I have said, in my view the politics and the action go together.
My hon. Friend asked whether I would come back to his Committee, and indeed to the House, within two months. I am very happy to come back in any way that people want me to, whether—if we decide to go ahead with this action—to give regular updates to the House, or indeed to appear in front of his Committee to go through detailed questions. I am in this, as in all things, the House’s servant.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement, and for the briefing we received from his national security adviser and colleagues last night. Given the seriousness of the issues with which we are all grappling, that briefing was valuable, and my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond and I expressed our thanks to those who are working so hard to keep us all safe.
We in the Scottish National party share the concerns of everyone in the House and the country about the terrorist threat from Daesh. We deplore the Assad regime, and have repeatedly raised the issue of refugees both in the region and in Europe. The SNP strongly supports the international initiative that was agreed in Vienna to secure a ceasefire in Syria and a transition to stable representative government, and to counter terrorist groups including Daesh. We believe that these aims will be secured only through agreement and a serious, long-term commitment to Syria. How is the UK supporting the international Syria support initiative and other diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire, to ensure a political transition, to combat terrorists such as Daesh and to plan for long-term reconstruction, stability and support?
Yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions, I asked two questions about Syria that the Prime Minister did not answer, so I would like to repeat them today. How will the UK plan to secure peace in Syria? As the FAC asked, “which ground forces will”—not can, but will—
“take, hold, and administer territories captured from ISIL in Syria”?
He has talked about 70,000 Free Syrian Army troops. How many of those are in the north-east of Syria, on the front line against Daesh, as opposed to countering Syrian regime forces? How will the UK plan to secure long-term stability and reconstruction in Syria? The UK spent 13 times more bombing Libya than on its post-conflict stability and reconstruction. As I asked yesterday, how much does he estimate the total cost of reconstruction will be, and does he think that the amount in his statement today will be sufficient?
Two years ago, the Prime Minister urged us to bomb Daesh’s opponents in Syria, which would probably have strengthened this terrorist organisation. Today, he wants us to launch a bombing campaign without effective ground support or a fully costed reconstruction and stability plan. He has asked us to consider his plan, and we have listened closely, but key questions posed by the FAC remain unanswered, and unless he answers them satisfactorily, the SNP will not vote for airstrikes in Syria.
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to my national security adviser, Mark Lyall Grant, who has been working hard to provide factual briefings, on a Privy Council basis, to parties across the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman is right that we require political agreement and Syria’s long-term reconstruction. My argument is not that I disagree, but that we also need to act now to help protect ourselves against the terrorism we have seen on the streets of Paris and elsewhere. He asked a technical question about how we are supporting the negotiation initiative in Vienna. Obviously, we are playing a full part, through the Foreign Secretary, but we are also helping to fund the work of the UN envoys trying to bring the parties together.
The right hon. Gentleman asked who were the troops on the ground. As I have explained, there are the Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish forces. That, of course, makes it a more complicated picture than Iraq, where there are the Iraq security forces, but we can help these forces to take and hold ground and to relieve suffering, as we have seen around Kobani and with the Yazidis. Important progress can be made. I was frank in my statement, however: of course, the true arrival of ground forces awaits a new Government in Syria. Having that partner is the best way to eradicate ISIL in the long-term, but again the question arises: can we wait for that to happen before we take some action that will degrade ISIL and its capabilities to do us harm?
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about Syria’s long-term reconstruction. As we debated yesterday on the autumn statement, we have one of the largest development budgets in the world, and I have already said we would be prepared to commit £1 billion to such reconstruction. I think the world would come together if there was a new Government in Syria, and the Syrian people, many of whom are currently outside their country and desperate to go home, would not be left wanting for support. They would get Britain’s support and, I believe, that of the whole developed world.
The Prime Minister has made a compelling case for playing a proper part with our allies on both sides of the meaningless international border and for the political process, in which we can have a voice, of bringing the Americans closer to the Russians, and the Saudis and Turks closer to the Iranians. Does he accept, however, that in the medium term we have to look for whatever agreement can produce stability and a more peaceful situation, and that we might have to prepare ourselves for something that falls far short of a liberal, western democracy? Is not the experience of the Arab spring that going straight to democratic elections does not produce a resolution, that any agreement will have to involve some rather unpleasant people, not just those who would naturally be our allies, and that Assad and others might have to be involved, because the big enemy is ISIL, which is dangerous and cannot be engaged in any political negotiations?
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks with great wisdom about these matters, and it is important to have his support. He has never been an unquestioning supporter of military action, and he thinks these things through very carefully. He talks about the future government of Syria- and the transition that needs to take place falling short of some of the democratic norms that we would want to see, and yes of course that is likely. When I say that I believe Assad cannot be part of the long-term government of Syria, in many ways that is not a political preference; in my view, it is a statement of fact. There will not be a Government of Syria that can command the support of the Syrian people if he is in charge of it, because of the blood that has been shed and because of what has happened in that country. But do I believe that a transition in Syria will produce some perfect Swiss-style democracy? No of course it won’t, but it might give us a partner with which we can complete the obliteration of ISIL and therefore make us safer.
May I remind the Prime Minister that, two years ago, he was equally eloquent in telling us how essential it was to bomb the Assad regime? I believe that the decision taken by the House in 2013 was the correct one and that, had we followed his advice, the situation in Syria would now be even worse than it is. Does he agree that the crux of the issue for every Member of the House is this: would military action help to defeat ISIS? I happen to believe that the answer is no. I wonder how many Members really believe that it would make any difference at all in defeating this hated death cult.
I do not particularly want to re-enter all the arguments about chemical weapons use. All I will say is that I of course listen to the hon. Gentleman’s views, but I also think of the thousands of people, including children, who have been killed by Assad’s barrel bombs and chemical weapons since we held that vote. The hon. Gentleman asked the right question, however. Will this make us safer or not? Will it help to degrade ISIL or not? It is the view of our closest allies, our military, our intelligence experts and those responsible for our domestic security: all those people are saying that we should take this action, as part of a coalition, to help make us safer. That is why I am bringing forward this statement and, with the support of the House, I will bring forward a vote.
Following the limited but important progress on the political track in Vienna and the unanimous adoption by the United Nations of resolution 2249 on ISIL, is it not clear that the Prime Minister’s considered response today is absolutely compelling? Is this not the way in which we discharge our responsibility to protect innocent civilians, both here in the United Kingdom and in Syria?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support. This is about discharging our responsibilities, chiefly to our own citizens. It is my considered view that this action will help, over time, to make us safer. We will never be safe while ISIL exists and while this so-called caliphate exists. We have demonstrated in Iraq that we can take its territory and destroy much of its infrastructure. We can make real progress, but we are hampered by not being able to do the same in Syria. If we agree that the eradication of ISIL is essential for our national security, we should not put off the decision.
I am sure that the Prime Minister is correct to say that the continued existence of the so-called caliphate is an inspiration to violence and to extremists not only in the middle east but even in our own country. I know that these things are still subject to negotiation, but can he give the House an indication of what the characteristics of a legitimate transitional Government might be?
First, let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the so-called “caliphate”. As I tried to set out in my statement, there are the military objectives of trying to break up the terrorist training camps and infrastructure, and the terrorists themselves, but there is a bigger picture, which is that while this so-called “caliphate” exists, I do not believe we are safe. We should therefore be part of its dismantling.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the characteristics of transition, this is what is being discussed in Vienna, but it should start with ceasefires. It should then proceed to the political work of drawing up what a transitional Government and institutions would look like, and then be followed, probably, by elections and, at some stage, a transition away from the current leadership. As I said in reply to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, this will not be a perfect or scientific process, but to me it is essential, because in the end it is political transition that will help us to complete the final destruction of ISIL—military force cannot do it on its own. I am not coming to this Dispatch Box saying that there is a purely military solution—there is not; there is a political, diplomatic and military solution, and we need to do all of the bits of that.
Many hon. and right hon. Members, including me, entirely agree with the Prime Minister that ISIL/Daesh must be crushed militarily in Syria—the crushing will indeed have to be military—but, as he acknowledged at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, air strikes alone will not be effective; they have got to be in co-ordination with credible ground forces. I have to say that the suggestion that there are 70,000 non-Islamist, moderate, credible ground forces is a revelation to me and, I suspect, to most other Members in this House. Adequate ground forces, in my view, depend on the participation of the Syrian army, so if the dictator Assad refuses to resign, which is the greater danger to our national interest: Syria under him or the continued existence and expansion of ISIL/Daesh? We may have to choose between one and the other.
I have great respect for my right hon. Friend, who thinks about these things very carefully. There are a lot of grounds of agreement between us: we agree on the dangers of ISIL; we agree that it needs to be crushed; we agree that that will need the involvement of ground forces; and we also agree that, as I put in my response to the Foreign Affairs Committee, we need an ISIL-first strategy—ISIL is the greater threat to the United Kingdom. I think the only areas of disagreement between us are on a technical point and a slightly more profound but not unbridgeable one. The technical point is that what I have said about 70,000 moderate forces in Syria is not my figure; it is the considered opinion of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a Committee that was set up and given independence to avoid any of the mistakes we had in the past of the potential misuse of intelligence and other information. This is its considered view; that document has been entirely cleared by the Committee, as has my statement.
The other issue we have to come to is that of course my right hon. Friend and I agree that in time the best ground troops should be the Syrian army, but my view is that that will be more likely to happen after a political transition has taken place in Syria. My contention is that the problem of believing it can be done with Assad is that we will never get the ceasefire and we will never get the participation of the Sunni majority in Syria while Assad is still there. I think the area of disagreement between us is narrowing, as is the area of disagreement between Britain, America and France, and the Russians; we all now see the need for there to be both a military and a political solution.
The Prime Minister has made a strong moral and legal case for defeating what is a new totalitarianism in both Syria and Iraq, but the real question is, obviously, the practical one, and that is what the House will want to consider. May I therefore press him on the following issue? Given the different Russian objectives in Syria, how will he avoid giving support or appearing to give support to Assad forces and becoming dependent on them, and how will he avoid that giving succour to ISIL in its recruitment in the region?
That is the important issue. We have been very clear that our target is ISIL, not the regime. However, we will be helped, as I said in my statement, in our combating of ISIL if the Sunni majority in Syria continues to believe, rightly, that we think that Syria requires a transition away from Assad. Assad cannot, in the long term, run that country.
On Russian objectives, the gap between us has narrowed. Russia sees the danger of ISIL and is attacking them. We see the danger of ISIL and are attacking them. The difference is that Russia is still attacking the moderate Syrian forces that we believe, in time, could be part of a genuine transition in Syria that would have the support of all the Syrian people. We do have ways of deconflicting, and we are having discussions. I met President Putin at the G20. I think that the horrific attack on the Russian airliner flying from Sharm el-Sheikh will bring home to everyone in Russia again that this needs an ISIL-first strategy. That is where the greatest threat comes from and that is where we should focus.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on setting out such a comprehensive approach and on stressing that it is an ISIL-first strategy. Does he accept that for the United Kingdom not to act is in itself a policy position that will have consequences, because the jihadists hate us not for what we do, but for who we are and what we stand for? Does he agree that we do not have the luxury of not confronting ISIL, because they have chosen to confront us? The question is whether we confront them over there or, increasingly, take the risk of having to confront them over here.
My right hon. Friend brings great clarity to this matter. Not taking action is itself a choice, and that choice has consequences. It is my judgment, and the judgment of those independent, impartial, highly trained advisers on security and military issues who take the same view, that inaction is the greater risk.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for early sight of it. There are understandable knee-jerk reactions on both sides to the horror of Paris and of Beirut. There will be those who say, “Intervene”; those who say, “Intervene at all costs”; and also those who say, “Do not intervene no matter what the evidence points to.” The Prime Minister knows that the Liberal Democrats have set out five criteria against which we can judge this statement. On that basis, may I press him on two particular points? The Prime Minister recognises that air strikes alone will not defeat ISIL. He has already heard that he will need to give much more evidence to this House to convince it that the ground operations that are there are sufficient and have the capability and the credibility to deliver on the ground, which is what he knows needs to be delivered. What role will Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the other Gulf states play in delivering this victory, if that is the direction in which we choose to go as a country and as a House? There is also a reference to humanitarian aid in this statement. He will know that no amount of aid can help an innocent family dodge a bomb. There is no reference in this statement to establishing no-bomb zones or safe havens to protect innocent civilians if this action takes place. Will he answer that question?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response and for the fact that his party wants to engage with the arguments, think very carefully and consider the key national security arguments before making its judgment. I know that the national security adviser was pleased to brief its members last night and stands ready to brief them and answer any detailed questions that they might have. I am determined that there should be no knee-jerk reaction. I take very seriously what happened in Paris. I know absolutely that that could just as well happen in the UK, as it could happen in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe, and that the threat that we face is very, very severe. I want us to consider this and to think it through. I do not want anyone to feel that a good process has not been followed, so that if people agree with the case being put, they can in all conscience vote to support it.
The hon. Gentleman asked two specific questions. On humanitarian aid, we will continue to deliver that. On no-bomb zones, the dangers and difficulties with no-bomb zones and safe zones are that they have to be enforced, and that can require the taking out of air defences, which would spread the conflict wider and which, in many cases, requires the presence of ground troops. We will not be putting in ground troops for those purposes. I do not want to declare a safe zone unless it is genuinely safe. Of course what we want is a growing part of Iraq and a growing part of Syria to be no-bomb zones because there will no bombing taking place as we will have a political agreement that will deliver the ceasefires that we need, and we will have taken action to reduce ISIL.
On the question of ground troops and the role of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, they on the whole have been helping to fund the moderate Syrian opposition which, in my view, needs to play a part in the future of that country, and they strongly support the action that Britain proposes to take.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that boots on the ground are ultimately essential if bombing is to be relevant. I would like him to convince me that what he refers to as the Free Syrian Army actually exists and is not a label that we apply to a rag-bag group of clans and tribal forces with no coherent force. I would like him to convince me that there is a moderate group that we can back, whereas in times of constitutional dissolution it is almost a law of human nature that people rally to the most extreme and forceful advocate of their group; there are no moderates. I would like my right hon. Friend to believe that these forces, if they exist, can this time can be persuaded to act against the Islamists, whereas last time he wanted and expected them to act against Assad.
I very much respect my right hon. Friend’s point of view because he is absolutely asking the right question about what troops there are on the ground to help us, and the truth is that there are moderate forces—the forces of the Free Syrian Army. They have a particular role in the south of the country abutting the Jordan border. They have taken the fight to ISIL, and they have, as I said in my statement, prevented ISIL from taking vital ground. When we work either with them or with Kurdish forces, we can see the effect of them taking ground, holding ground and, indeed, administering territory, as I set out in my reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Let me add that there is one way to ensure that the only choice for Syrians who do not back Assad is to join ISIL, and that is if we do not support the moderate forces. Most people in Syria are neither massive fans of Assad or psychopathic Islamist extremist killers. Most people in Syria want to have a pluralistic country where they can get on with their lives. That is who the Free Syrian Army and other moderate groups are fighting for, and that is why they deserve our support.
The Prime Minister makes a strong case to the House today but he will be aware that Members on both sides want reassuring that he and his Government will indeed show the persistence and patience required over many months to get agreement on both the political strategy and reconstruction in Syria and Iraq. What reassurance can he give that his Government will provide that commitment today?
The commitment that I can give to the hon. Lady is that this is the No. 1 issue that we face, not only for national security but in terms of the migration crisis in Europe, which is a massive question for all European countries, Britain included. It deserves the maximum amount of attention and resources that we can give it. We will have to be patient and persistent, and not just on the political, diplomatic and humanitarian angles, where I think we have a good track record. We did not suddenly respond to the Syrian refugee crisis; we have been giving that £1 billion over the last four years. I say to the House that we will require persistence in terms of the military action that we take, just as we have in Iraq, where persistent action has led to a 30% reduction in ISIL-held territory. Those gains will not be won quickly. The strategy that we are pursuing is one that takes time because we are working with the Government on the ground in Iraq and with the legitimate forces on the ground in Syria, so we cannot expect immediate results, but over time it will make us safer.
If the attack, God forbid, had happened in London and not in Paris, I believe that today the British people would be outraged, dismayed and upset that our allies did not have our back and that their politicians were procrastinating for so long about whether to come to their aid. Prime Minister, we know that you need a vote in this House to give you support. Given your statement today and your declaration about what the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the head of MI5 have stated in their opinion, will you ask our Chief Whip to gain an assurance from the Opposition Chief Whip that the good men and women on the Opposition Benches will come to the aid of our allies sooner rather than later?
In putting the question of what we would be feeling if there were an attack on London rather than Paris, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Let us be frank: this attack could just as well have been in London as in Paris. We should recognise what a close alliance we have with France and with the United States and how together we can make our world safer.
As for the vote, which I hope will be held, I said that we cannot hold it if there is a danger of losing it. That is not because of Government pride or anything like that—all politicians are ultimately expendable. It is about the importance of our national security and the message it would send to our enemies. I am trying to make sure that we draw together the biggest possible coalition of Members of Parliament from all parts of the House to support what I promise will be a motion that stresses the importance of a strategy and every element of that strategy, and of post-conflict reconstruction. I think there are many points in the motion passed at the Labour party conference on this issue that either have been addressed, such as the need for a UN resolution, or can be addressed through the action that we are taking. Of course everyone has to come to their own decision, but I do not want to give anyone a way out of making that decision through some mistake over process; that would not be right.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, for the national security briefings we have received and for the discussions we have had in recent days. At times like this, it is right again to thank our brave and precious servicemen and women, who stand ready to do their duty. We on these Benches know from long experience the consequences of appeasing and indulging terrorism for too long. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, unlike last time, the action foreshadowed today is against ISIL terrorists and nobody else? I confirm that, for us, the important issues are an effective overall strategy, the targeting of terrorists, and that there is an end point. We stand ready to do what is in the best interests of our national security. If it protects our people, here and abroad, we must act. I commend the Prime Minister for his statement.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the whole country in thanking our armed forces for the work they are already doing to combat ISIL. I can give him the absolute assurance that what we are talking about here is action against ISIL, not action against anybody else. I completely agree with him on being clear about strategy, clear about targeting and, as I was today, clear about the end point of what we are trying to achieve. They are all very much part of our approach.
Having just returned from the middle east, I know that regional powers and allies believe that, in the absence of a realistic long-term strategy and proper local knowledge, we risk repeating the errors we made in our interventions in Iraq, in Afghanistan post-2006 and in Libya. Key questions remain unanswered, including how best to combat the sectarianism, the extremism, and the ideology that all extremist groups, not just Daesh, feed off; and how best to disrupt the business flows—we have been talking about this in relation to Daesh for over a year now, with no effect. Also, I ask him to look again at his figure of 70,000 for Free Syrian Army forces, because we have been told very directly in recent contact that there are very few moderates remaining on either side of this civil war. Without answers to these questions, airstrikes will only reinforce the west’s failure in the region generally, at a time when already there are too many aircraft chasing too few targets.
I believe that what there are too many of is terrorists threatening our country, but I agree with my hon. Friend that we have to combat the ideology, and that is a very big part of our strategy. It is a very big part of our domestic strategy—the Prevent duty: what we are saying all our schools and universities must do, and what our communities must do together. I think that more action on that has been taken by this country than by many others in Europe and around the world.
On starving ISIL of money and resources, I could not agree more. If there are more UN resolutions, more action, more that can be done, I will be first to push for that, but let us be frank about where ISIL get their money from: they got their money out of the banks in Mosul; they get their money from selling oil to Assad; they get their money from owning and occupying such a large amount of territory.
The 70,000 figure is not mine. I have not produced any of these figures; they come directly from the security and intelligence experts who advise me, now filtered through a proper Joint Intelligence Committee process set up under the Butler inquiry after the Iraq war. I am determined that we learn the lessons of that conflict, but surely the lesson cannot be that when we are threatened and we can make a difference, we should somehow stand back.
The Prime Minister was commended, rightly, for not lashing out militarily after the provocation of the atrocities of Tunisia, but he is wrong now to ignore the real threat—the ISIL plan—which is to escalate a regional war into a world war between Christians and Muslims. Would not our action now repeat what we did in 2003, when we deepened the divide between Muslims and Christians, which is ISIL’s strategy? The great threat is home-grown terrorism, and is it not likely that the Prime Minister’s action will increase recruits to jihadism, here and elsewhere in the world?
I know the hon. Gentleman deeply wants to have the peaceful world that we all dream of. In that we have something in common, but ISIL have taken action against us already. They were behind the murder of the people on the beach in Tunisia. They are behind the plots in our country. They butchered our friends and allies and our citizens in Paris. As for the battle between Muslims and Christians, that is what we want to avoid. It is by working with Muslim allies to stop this radicalisation, stop this extremism and stop ISIL that we prevent that clash from taking place. ISIL butcher Muslims in vast numbers, and that is why they have to be stopped. We cannot subcontract that work out to everybody else; we should be part of it.
For those of us who were in this House and saw another Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box and felt that we voted at that time to take military action on a false premise, may I thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House and for his approach and openness over what I believe is a real and present threat to citizens in the UK? There can be no doubt that we would bring a specific military capability through our precision guided missiles, Paveway IV and Brimstone. If and when—I believe when—we join in the military action in Syria, is the Prime Minister satisfied that we have sufficient stocks and manufacturing capability to sustain and fulfil our military objectives there?
I can confirm that we have sufficient stocks, but let me respond to my right hon. Friend’s wider point. It is true that what happened in 2003 over Iraq poisoned the well in many ways in the debate about these issues. I have tried to go about this in as different a way as possible—no rush, clear legal advice, the publication of as much of it as possible, the widest possible international coalition, strong Arab and Muslim partners, and trying to take the House through this every step of the way. The one thing I would say to colleagues is that we must not let 2003 and decisions about Iraq hold us back from taking correct decisions after proper consideration. That would be not just letting down our allies, but letting down ourselves and the people we are here to represent.
Is it not essential in any prelude to a war to be sure of our allies and to be sure of the objectives? Is it not a fact that Turkey has been buying oil from ISIL? They used Turkey’s trucks to store it. Turkey has been bombing the Kurds, and the Kurds are fighting ISIL. Turkey shot down a Russian jet, even though Russia wants to fight ISIL. The Prime Minister has the objective of getting rid of Assad. A Russian ally has the opposite objective. What a crazy war—enemies to the right of us, enemies to the left of us. Keep out.
The one thing I agree with the hon. Gentleman about is that we should be clear about our allies and our objectives. Our allies include not just the United States of America and France but Gulf states and others in the region, which are all now coming together in an alliance to get rid of ISIL. We also need to be clear about our objectives, which are the military targets that I spoke about but also the deflating and destruction of this caliphate that is such a risk to our world.
As for Turkey and oil smuggling, it has taken action to try to stop the smuggling across its border by confiscating the oil, taking forward prosecutions and trying to seal its border. Should it do more? Yes, of course it should do more, and that is very much part of our strategy.
Last night, two senior French military officers told me how much their country would appreciate our joining fully in taking the fight to the accursed Daesh in Syria. Pinpoint-accurate bombing by the RAF would demonstrate our determination to destroy the scourge of Daesh. I applaud the Prime Minister for trying to get parliamentary approval for co-ordinated offensive action in Syria, and I ask that we bring that highly potent gesture to a vote of this House as soon as next week. Our allies want us to prove that we are fully with them.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has served in conflict zones. He knows the importance of making these decisions after careful consideration, and he absolutely knows the importance of standing by our allies.
I thank the Prime Minister for the statement and for sight of it beforehand.
I was on the same Bench in 2003 when Tony Blair presented the case for war in Iraq with his customary sincerity. Plaid Cymru MPs voted against that war. For us, it was a matter of integrity. Before the Prime Minister comes to this House again to put the case for more war to the vote, I ask him to examine his conscience and examine all choices short of bombing, as we all must. It is a case of life and death, and eventually, for all of us, it is a matter of integrity.
I agree that this is a matter of integrity, and there is no part of me that wants to take part in any military action that I do not believe is 100% necessary for our own safety and security. That is what this is about.
The hon. Gentleman refers back to the Iraq vote. I know that was a time of great difficulty for the House and the country and has become hugely controversial, but as I said earlier, we must not let that hold us back from making correct and thought-through decisions when we are under such threat. And we are—that bomb in Paris could have been in London. If ISIL had their way, it would be in London. I cannot stand here and say we are safe from all these threats. We are not. I cannot stand here and say, either, that we will remove the threat through the action that we take, but do I stand here with advice behind me that taking action will degrade and reduce that threat over time? Absolutely. I have examined my conscience and that is what it is telling me.
Given Britain’s historical connections with the region, may I strongly endorse my right hon. Friend’s view expressed in his memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee this morning that
“now is the time to scale up British diplomatic, defence and humanitarian efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict and to defeat ISIL”?
May I urge him to intensify his discussions with President Putin, who clearly has the ear of President Assad and will be key to any resolution of the conflict? May I also remind him that it was thanks to the intervention of the Royal Air Force and other air forces that Iraq was prevented from falling into the hands of ISIL completely, which would have been catastrophic for the region? It makes no sense to stop at the Iraqi border today.
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. The point he makes about Iraq is particularly potent because there was a danger of ISIL overrunning Iraq, and that was stopped through the combination of action from the sky, including by us, and legitimate ground forces. He is also right to talk about the importance of discussing these issues with President Putin, as I have done and will continue to do. There is a gap between us, but I believe it is reducing.
I agree with the Prime Minister that the diplomatic and political process must play a key part in our approach to the hugely complex situation in Syria, and credit should be given to the part it has played so far. But with some limited progress now being seen to come out of Vienna, will he directly address the vital concerns that come through very strongly in the evidence to the Select Committee report that our ability to continue that key political and diplomatic role will be compromised fundamentally if we join the bombing?
The hon. Lady asks a very important question, which is whether taking action against ISIL in Syria makes a political agreement more likely or less likely. In my view, it makes it more likely, first of all because we need to have a Syria with territorial integrity, and unless we deal with ISIL and the caliphate we will not have a Syria to have a transition in. Secondly, while she and I may disagree about many things, surely moderate Sunni forces in Syria need to play a part in the future of that country, so we should be helping them, including through what we do with ISIL, rather than seeing them being wasted away.
The comprehensive yet, if I may say so, moderate, cautious and wise way in which the Prime Minister has answered many of the concerns this morning will, I think, have led opinion in the House and throughout the country to favour taking the right move, which is striking against ISIS wherever it may be. Does he not agree that the big decision we took was in the House last September, when by 548 votes to 43 we decided to attack ISIS? That decision remains today. Does he not agree that surely some of these current decisions must be taken by him, by the generals and by the intelligence chiefs, and not necessarily taking account of the twists and turns of political fortune in this House?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. The point he makes about looking back at the decision we made with respect to ISIL in Iraq and reaching a judgment is an important one, because the judgment was the right one and ISIL has been pushed back in quite a large way since that decision. As for coming in front of this House, I have been very clear that I reserve the right to take action in Britain’s national interest, when I need to, immediately, as I did over the terrorists in Syria, but we now have the convention, which I am happy to apply, that there should be a vote in the House before premeditated action.
I am rather anxious that we seem to be responding on the basis of “something must be done”, which is not always the basis for the best decisions. I wonder whether the
Prime Minister has received information about the strikes in Raqqa that have definitely hit civilian areas and the fact that there is an increase in the number of refugees because they do not know which way to run. I think we do need to be conscious of the risk of recruitment. The people who bombed London in 2005 lived here and the people who bombed Paris lived there. We will not bomb them out of existence, and we know that this may well increase recruitment of extremists here.
I would say to the hon. Lady that this absolutely is not a “something must be done” strategy; it is about careful consideration, bringing together all the parts of a plan—diplomatic, political, humanitarian, reconstruction, and military action. Doing nothing, which is the opposite of what the hon. Lady would say, also has consequences, which we have to consider very carefully. In my view, we are at greater risk in terms of the dangerous recruitment of Islamist extremists in our own country for as long as this so-called caliphate exists.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s approach as set out in his statement, particularly that he is working with our allies. May I urge him to talk to President Obama to ask him when the United States is going to show more resolve? Is it not strange that during the Bosnia conflict it mounted perhaps 130 sorties a day and every aircraft was cleared to drop or shoot, whereas in Syria it is perhaps doing an average of seven sorties a day and only one or two aircraft are cleared to drop or shoot? Should we not expect more from the United States if this alliance is going to be successful?
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. He is right to say how important it is always to have a clear strategy—to have a set of goals and clear means to achieve those goals, which is what I believe I have set out today. The Americans are bearing a lot of the burden of attacking ISIL in Syria, but with other allies, including moderate Arab states. Obviously the greater the part that we play in response to their requests, the greater influence we can have on the course of the campaign, and, in answer to questions from Opposition Members, the greater accuracy we can insist on in terms of targeting.
The Prime Minister has made a very powerful case this morning. On Tuesday, the head of counter-terrorism said in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that the threat of Daesh in this country is very real. May I press the Prime Minister on two points? First, an inevitable consequence of our intervention will be that the migration crisis will get much worse. I know that we are ready for that, but is the rest of the European Union ready for it? Secondly, the Prime Minister says that he is the servant of the House. We are all servants of the people. Could I invite him to invite leaders of the Muslim community to meet him at Downing Street, so that he can put the case to them as eloquently as he has put it to us?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support, and for what he has said about his Select Committee and the evidence it received from counter-terrorism experts. I believe they are all speaking with the same voice about the risks we face from this so-called caliphate. The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of migration. In the end, the only way to stop the migration crisis is a political solution in Syria, and as I have argued, this action goes together with the political solution we need. He is right to say how important it is to discuss all the issues with members of the Muslim community. I have set up a new engagement forum, and I will look very closely at the specific idea he has suggested.
I support an ISIL-first strategy, but can my right hon. Friend explain how we will succeed with that strategy if it is not shared by Turkey, which seems to be more interested in bombing Kurds than in bombing ISIL?
I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. It is right to have, as I have set out, an ISIL-first strategy. I think what we are seeing from others involved in this process is a growing understanding that the true enemy is ISIL. If we look at what happened with the hideous bombing in Ankara, which has now been laid firmly at the door of ISIL, we will see that there is a growing understanding from Turkey’s leaders that ISIL is an enormous threat to their country—which it is.
Although it has been helpful to hear the Prime Minister say more about how robust the intelligence is in support of some of the facts he has provided today, particularly with regard to the 70,000 Syrian fighters, the issue of ground forces, which has been raised by other Members, is key, and today’s statement was weak in that regard. I have asked him this question twice before: what efforts is he continuing to make to persuade the Iraqi Government to do more to arm and support the Sunnis in Iraq, because they will be crucial to defeating ISIL?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Prime Minister al-Abadi is a great improvement on his predecessor in wanting a genuinely plural society in Iraq, but we need more progress on hiring Sunnis—and indeed Kurds—into the Iraqi security forces, so that there are troops who will be trusted by local people when they clear and hold territory that is occupied by Sunni tribes. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about that. We are doing everything we can. We already have forces training the Iraqi security forces, at their request, on countering improvised explosive devices; I am sure they would like us to do more. We will keep looking at their requests and see what more we can do. The hon. Gentleman is completely right about that.
On the robustness of the intelligence case regarding the Free Syrian Army, as I have said, that is all cleared through the authorities in a way that never existed properly before the Iraq war. Those changes were put in place. If the House wants, through its Select Committees, to invite some of those senior officials to give detailed evidence, I am very happy for that to happen. In no way do I want to be accused of inventing or overstating intelligence information; I am trying to understate everything. The only thing I am absolutely clear about is that we face a threat and we should deal with it.
The Prime Minister has made a compelling and considered case today. Having voted against action last time this subject came to the House, I would like to say that I will join him in standing with not only our allies, but the countless thousands of Muslims across the region who have been enslaved, massacred and tortured. What reassurance can he give our forces who are supporting Kurds and other local forces on the ground that they will not be bombed by Russia?
May I thank my hon. Friend for her support? This is a different question that the House is considering, and I do not want to go back over past ground. This is a new question, and I would appeal to colleagues right across the House to respond in the way that she has done.
In terms of the moderate forces, this is the remaining disagreement between us and Russia. So far, Russia has done more to inflict damage on the moderate forces than on ISIL. There are some signs of that changing, and we need to encourage that to change more, not least because in the processes we have had in the past, including the Geneva processes, the Russians have accepted that people such as the Free Syrian Army and their civilian representatives should play a part in the future of Syria.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House to deal with some of the issues raised in our report about how we can best and most effectively bring an end to Daesh. The House has been asked to commit to military action in the past in areas such as Libya and Iraq, as the Prime Minister said, and that has ended badly. I do not believe that he has yet answered our questions adequately on issues such as ground troops or a long-term strategy. Further to the comments by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, will the Prime Minister give a commitment to appear before the Committee to give evidence before a motion comes before the House to approve military action?
I am very happy to appear in front of the Select Committee. I cannot promise to do that before a vote in this House, but obviously, were there to be a vote in this House, I would appear in this House—at this Dispatch Box—for a full day’s debate. I will sit and listen to contributions, I will take questions, and I will take as many interventions as I possibly can.
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I think the Select Committee asked good questions, and I would urge him to read our response in full; it is incredibly detailed. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has, I think, indicated that the answers are satisfactory. I ask the hon. Gentleman, as a member of that respected Select Committee, to look at it carefully. If there are other points that he wants to raise and write to me about, I am very happy to enter into a correspondence with him.
The Prime Minister will know that some of the regional tensions in the middle east and Syria stem from the mutual hostility and antagonism between Iran and Saudi Arabia. During our Foreign Affairs Committee visit to both Tehran and Riyadh this week, we were given assurances that both countries are prepared to start constructive dialogue. Will he use his good offices at the United Nations to bring these two countries together to try to make sure that their hostility stops?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran is going to be crucial to providing the backdrop to a political solution in Syria. We need to make sure that the potential conflict between Sunni majority nations and Shi’a majority nations does not overtake what is necessary, which is to identify the common enemy: this Islamist extremist violence, most notably through ISIL, which is of course a threat to us, as we have discussed, but also a massive threat to the stability and security of the region.
It is of course important that the Prime Minister provides the reassurances that many of my Labour colleagues are seeking—particularly on the reconstruction fund, which he mentioned, for after the conflict—but is not United Nations Security Council resolution 2249 a pivotal moment? Will he confirm that it not only permits all necessary steps to be taken to eradicate ISIL, but actually calls on member states to take all necessary steps? What would it say about our judgment if we failed to take heed of the appeal from the United Nations?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. The Security Council resolution confirms the right of member states to defend themselves and others, and it confirms the need to do so against ISIL, so I think that is a very powerful point. When people talk about knee-jerk reactions, we need to think about what has changed. What has changed is that we have a UN Security Council resolution, Paris has happened, the political process has happened, and the advice about the need for action is so clear. Labour Members will, I know, be thinking very carefully about this, and rightly so, but I was looking at what their party conference motion said about opposing action until the “following conditions are met”, of which the first point was:
“Clear and unambiguous authorisation…from the United Nations.”
That is a very important step forward, so Members who feel that this is the right action should see that as a very important point.
I thank the Prime Minister for the great care that he has taken to inform us. Indeed, he has made a very convincing case today. However, he and I sat in this Chamber when a very convincing case was made for the Iraq war, so we need to be very careful about this. He may not want to say a lot in public about this point at the moment, but many of us want to be convinced about the operational basis of this action, and to be sure that it will make a difference in this benighted country.
I say gently to the Prime Minister that the weakest part of his argument was in his response to my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis. This rag-bag army of the Free Syrians will not take the territory held by ISIL. I know that the Prime Minister will not want to say this in public now and eat his words, but we have to co-operate with Russia, Assad and the Syrian army if we are to complete a bombing war and look forward to the reconstruction after that.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says about the case that has been made. Let us not look back to Iraq and 2003. We have to separate in our minds, our actions and our votes the case in front of us now from what people feel they were told back in 2003.
My hon. Friend says that one of the most difficult arguments is the one about ground troops. He is absolutely right; it is probably the most difficult argument. I am not denying that. I am not pretending that there is some perfect armed force, formed up and ready for us to work with. I am saying: do not underestimate the fact that there are Free Syrian Army forces and Kurdish forces that can help. I am not overplaying them or overly bigging them up; they do exist, they are doing good work and we can help them. However, I have said very specifically that the real arrival of the ground troops we need will follow a political transition to a new Government in Syria.
The only difference between me and my hon. Friend—and, indeed, between me and my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis—is on whether we could team up with Assad. I do not think that that is practical, doable or the right course, not least because Assad has been something of a recruiting sergeant for ISIL. I hope that that difference between us does not mean that we end up in different Lobbies. He understands, and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East understands, that there is a threat from ISIL. Inasmuch as we can act now to reduce that threat, we should.
I thank the Prime Minister for the considered way in which he has approached this statement. If I have understood him correctly, he thinks that the UK’s participation in the existing military action in Syria would fulfil two functions. First, it would disrupt ISIL’s communications to guard against terrorist threats here. Secondly, it would buy time for forces on the ground in Syria to push ISIL/Daesh back, pending a political settlement in that country. On the second point, if ISIL/Daesh was pushed back, what is his best judgment of what forces would be most likely to move in and fill the gap, in advance of the political settlement that he and I want to see?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the two points that I am making. Let me answer him in a slightly strange way. When Russia bombed the Free Syrian Army, the forces that went into the area tended to be ISIL forces. The point I am making is that if we take action against ISIL where there are moderate forces or Kurdish forces, they have shown that, if we act in conjunction with them, they can take hold of and administer territory. That is what we should do. We should not overstate their abilities. As I have said, we will have to wait for a transition in Syria to have the full answer. However, the question is, “Can we make progress now?”, and my answer is yes.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comprehensive statement this morning, but I caution him about ruling out the use of western ground troops. God forbid that this should happen, but further major attacks on the west like those we have seen in Paris, London and New York could—I say “could”—force or demand the western allies to deploy with local troops to crush ISIL and prevent further atrocities on our streets.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend and his knowledge of military issues, but we have to think about the danger of being counterproductive. There is good evidence from history that the presence of western ground troops could itself be a radicaliser. That is why we are charting such a careful path, and are saying that we support action from the air and providing support to troops on the ground, but that we do not propose the application of British ground troops.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am keen to accommodate the interest of colleagues, which is understandably extensive. I would be assisted in that regard by brevity, as exemplified by a distinguished lawyer. I call Emily Thornberry.
I listened with great care to what the Prime Minister said because I wanted to hear about the strategy and the plan, but I am disappointed because I fear it is very thin. I have many questions, but I will ask just one about the military strategy. I know the Prime Minister agrees that we cannot bomb Syria into a western-style democracy from 30,000 feet, and that there must be much more. I want to focus on ground troops. The 70,000 moderate Sunni ground troops that the Prime Minister mentioned seem to be in the wrong place, and there is some question about whether they really exist. Most importantly, given that the Russians are supposed to be some form of ally to us on this matter, I imagine that we will be taking co-ordinated action with them. The Russians will surely continue to bomb those moderate Sunnis, so we will have chaos on the ground.
As I explained in my statement, the military strategy is to take out the terrorist targets that we can, as that will help to degrade and dismantle ISIL in Syria. It is to deflate and ultimately destroy the caliphate, which is a radicalising force around the world. We do not agree with the Russians in every regard, for the clear reasons that I have given, and we want them to focus on ISIL and not on the Free Syrian Army. We need to have that discussion with them, but as I said, I believe the gap between us is getting narrower.
Let us hear piercing directness and brevity from Mr Philip Davies.
I am prepared to support the Prime Minister in military action against Islamic State, which poses a severe and direct threat to us, but not against Assad, who does not. I want an ISIS-only strategy, rather than an ISIS-first strategy. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the motion he brings forward will be tightly defined and will include military action only against Islamic State, and that it will not give him wiggle room to go ahead and attack Assad on the back of that?
I can rarely give my hon. Friend full satisfaction, but this time I can. I guarantee that the resolution, if we have one, will say exactly that.
The Prime Minister has made a strong and compelling case, particularly as regards action on the grounds of national security, and I welcome the comprehensive, albeit belated, nature of this debate. He spoke about an ISIS-first plan, rather than a Syria-first plan. There is growing evidence that Assad’s barbarity is unhelpful and is forcing moderate Syrians towards extremism. I feel that to date the UK has not given this crisis the diplomatic priority that it demanded. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give the House that a tactical focus on airstrikes will not distract from or undermine vital attempts to achieve a ceasefire and a political transition?
The hon. Lady puts her point well, and I can give her the guarantee that we are stepping up our diplomatic and political efforts, as seen through the work of the Foreign Secretary and the work I am doing on this issue. This is a whole-Syria strategy, because in the end there will be no defeat of ISIL until there is a Syrian Government who can represent all of Syria’s people. Wherever these Islamist extremist groups are in the world—whether it is al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or ISIL in Libya and now in Syria and Iraq—they take advantage of ungoverned space, corrupt Governments, and a failure of countries to look after their people. This is a strategy for Syria, but we must recognise that there will be no Syria unless we degrade and destroy ISIL.
I thank the Prime Minister for his considered statement and approach to this issue. Following the atrocities in Paris, it is important that we are shown standing shoulder to shoulder with France, and I will support any motion that he brings forward to take action against ISIS in Syria. Will he be talking to his counterparts in other European Union countries to ensure that they, too, play their part in defeating ISIS?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I can certainly confirm that I will be having those conversations. President Hollande is coming to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting on Friday to talk about climate change. I will be able to report to him very directly the feeling in the House of Commons about the need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our French allies and colleagues. There is then an EU conference on EU relations with Turkey. I will be able to have many discussions with EU Presidents and Prime Ministers about the discussions we have had here, the mood of the House of Commons, and what needs to be done.
Does the Prime Minister agree that, whatever important differences we have, there is a united message from across the House about our abhorrence of Islamic State and all its works? All of us wish to eliminate it from our society and from the globe. Does he also agree, however, that we must learn the lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and that we must not go in on a tactic and make up the strategy as we go along? Fundamentally, will he consider even more fully doing the things Islamic State does not want us to do: build an international coalition, including with Assad, Russia and Turkey; and, above all, build an Islamic coalition in the region so that the people on the ground can carry the whole of global moderate Islamic opinion with them and isolate Islamic State from its support?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to show unity in what we say about ISIL. I think that is clear across the House. We also need to make sure that the coalition to counter ISIL includes Muslim countries and Gulf states, and it does. The only point of disagreement I would have with him is that I think we cannot include Assad in that coalition. He has been one of the radicalisers and the recruiting sergeants to ISIL, because of the barrel bombs and the attacks on his own people. Let me be clear again: this military action, were we to take it, would be targeted against ISIL, not against the regime.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. What lies behind wanting to take this action is not just the protection of ourselves here in this country but building a Syria to which people can return. That is what they want.
I commend the Prime Minister for the way he has brought this matter to the House. The failure to date of the allied operation to defeat Daesh is not through a lack of air power or bombs that the UK could provide; it is through a lack of sufficient and efficient ground forces able to capitalise on the temporary gains air power is able to achieve. The Free Syrian Army is not adequate to, nor even focused on, the task of defeating Daesh. It is equally focused on undermining Assad’s regime. Until the Government can guarantee a strong ground presence, does he accept that his strategy is one of hope, not confidence?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says about the way I am presenting this case. I am not presenting this case as one of perfection. Syria is very far from perfection. Even Iraq, where we have the ground troops of the Iraqi security forces and the peshmerga, is a far from ideal situation. As Opposition Members have said, we need to see more Sunnis engaged in the Iraqi armed forces. Obviously, in Syria we need more ground forces to help us do what we do. I believe, however, that to conclude from that we should do nothing is a counsel of despair. We should be taking this action, building on the resources we have.
The Prime Minister is entirely right that ISIL poses a direct threat to the security of this country and that therefore this country should play its part in helping to defeat it. What assessment has he made of the position of Iran, which is of course itself a fundamentalist state? It is, with Russia, one of the principal sponsors of the Assad regime and has many thousands of troops on the ground in Syria.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Iran plays a large role in Syria. We have many differences with Iran’s policies and approach. As the first British Prime Minister to meet an Iranian President for 35 years, I have always been clear about what those differences are. I think across the House we can agree on the importance of Iran taking part in this political process. It is crucial that it is around the table for the Vienna process. We need the regional players to buy into the future of Syria.
It is, of course, critical we learn the lessons from the past, but it is also critical we escape the trap that sees ISIL and their affiliates as always being a reaction to what we do. They are not children. They are adults who are fully and entirely responsible for what they do.
If we take the decision the Prime Minister is going to put before the House, it will not just extend our involvement, but extend our responsibility. What more can he say to convince the House and the country of his and his Government’s staying power on the diplomatic and political front, particularly at a time when big questions are being asked about Britain’s role in the world and how we see our place in the world?
I have said before that I think the right hon. Gentleman speaks with great clarity about this issue: about ISIL, the threat it poses and its own responsibility for its actions, rather than believing it is somehow a reaction to what we do. On what Britain can bring in terms of statecraft and resources, he will have seen the decision we have taken about our Foreign and Commonwealth Office and aid budgets. I think we have the ability to bring countries together, to play a big role in what is needed diplomatically, and to have a large wallet at the end of the process not just to look after refugees, vital though that is, but to help to rebuild the country once the war is over.
Mr McFadden spoke correctly when he said that those in ISIS are absolutely responsible for their actions. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister make a few comments on the fact that their actions are not simply an add-on? The attacks in Paris are not an add-on to their strategy. They are a core part of their theology. They are a vile, satanic death cult and they must be stopped.
My hon. Friend has considerable military experience and understanding of these issues. It is a core part of ISIL’s strategy not simply to build a so-called caliphate across Iraq and Syria, but to plan external attacks from that caliphate, as we have seen in Ankara, Beirut and Paris and the attacks we have thwarted in London. It is a core part of what it does.
I am very glad the Prime Minister believes we cannot bomb the ground unless there is a plan for holding the ground. I am glad he agrees we will not win unless there are more moderate Sunnis involved in forming an alternative Government-in-waiting. Without that Government-in-waiting, we risk the ground being ungoverned. What assurances can he give us that there are moderate Sunni leaders, particularly in Mosul and Raqqa? The truth is that the peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces and the Free Syrian Army will find it difficult to take those cities. If the political leaders are there, will he tell us who they are?
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say how important it is to have those ground forces. I pay tribute to what the peshmerga have been able to achieve with American, British and German support. It is also important to recognise what the Iraqi security forces have achieved and how we have rolled back a large extent of the so-called caliphate in Iraq. Syrian moderate forces will suffer further attrition unless we support them. There are 70,000 now. There will be more if we demonstrate our support for them financially, as we do already, and with equipment, as we do already; and, frankly, if we take the fight to ISIL, who are an enormous threat to them. This is partly within our powers. In terms of the people who lead these organisations, whether it is the Kurdish regional authority or the Free Syrian Army, they are all people we are in contact with and are working with. If the argument is being made that there are not enough of them, yes, I agree. But I do not think that that is an argument for inaction; it is an argument helping them and building them up.
The only apparent source of wealth for ISIL comes from onshore oil fields that do not require precision bombing to take out, yet we have made very little progress on this in the past year. Will the Prime Minister say why we have not attacked this source of wealth, and whether, going forward, we will be able to?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The simple answer to his question is that a lot of these fields are in Syria. When we ask what more we can do to cut off sources of funds to ISIL, we would be enormously helped if we could take the action in Syria that I am proposing.
While there are some who will set myriad preconditions that they know cannot be met realistically in the given timescale, there are nevertheless very legitimate questions. May I return the Prime Minister to the issue of Iraq? Will he have the courage to say that the Abadi Government are far from being a great improvement on their predecessor and that the political settlement in Iraq is broken, so that any long-term solution will come from the international community recognising that and placing a greater emphasis on rebuilding the capacity for the Sunni areas to govern for themselves?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The situation in Iraq—and its Government—is fragile and needs a lot of extra work, although it is an improvement on what came before. Again, my argument would be that it is by engaging that we are able to bring about change. This debate is revealing that there are answers to all these questions. We raise questions about whether they are comprehensive enough, but there is no perfection when it comes to this issue. In the end, we can ask all the questions and try to answer them, and then we reach a point of decision. In my view, from everything that is emerging from this discussion, there are answers, but in the end we cannot dodge the decision.
In relation to defeating this evil organisation, its ideological appeal and its self-proclaimed legitimacy, our key ally France uses the term Daesh, and the French media now follow. Paragraph 1(3)(5) of UN resolution 2249 mentions Daesh, as do the EU statement, the entire Arab League and 170 Members of Parliament. Doing so would help to address the rise in Islamophobia in this country, which I know the Prime Minister does not want, but which is happening by deliberately linking Islam with this terrorist organisation. It has chosen to call itself an Islamic state and a caliphate for a reason—we should not do that.
My hon. Friend is fighting this strong campaign and convincing increasing numbers of people. My only concern is whether we might lose the public by changing the name. I am listening very carefully to the arguments he is making.
I thank the Prime Minister for the patience he has shown this morning in his statement. I would like to press him on one point. He rightly talks about combating ISIL/Daesh, but he has also talked about Assad. Can he use the words that I think would comfort people in this House and in the country and say that Her Majesty’s Government are not about “regime change” in Syria?
I am happy to say that. We are not taking or proposing to take military action to achieve regime change in Syria. That is not the agenda. The agenda is to help others, including our allies, to degrade, deflate and ultimately destroy ISIL. We believe, as everyone in the Vienna process believes, that there needs to be political transition in Syria. That is not just the British view; it is the French view, the American view, and indeed in many ways also the Russian view, as well as the view of others. Whatever one’s view about Assad, there will need to be over time a comprehensive and pluralistic Government in Syria that can represent all the people.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that ISIL/Daesh needs to be taken on in its physical territory in northern Iraq and Syria. Does he agree, however, that this is not just a physical battlefield; it is a battlefield that is going on in cyberspace, too, and that we need to ensure that we take on ISIL/Daesh wherever they are—physically or virtually?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A lot of use has been made of social media and cyberspace, so the conflict needs to take place there as well.
One of the challenges we will face is the increasing number of refugees next spring. What steps will we take, with our allies, to ensure that we deal with the threat of terrorism that uses the cover of the passage of refugees into Europe to strike at European countries, including the United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. At Europe’s external border, we need to do better at making sure that refugees are properly fingerprinted and documented, so that people cannot do what might have happened recently with movements across the border. In Britain, we maintain our own border controls. As I have said from this Dispatch Box before, if we have legitimate security concerns, we are able to stop people coming into this country, whether they be EU citizens or those coming from elsewhere.
I think the whole House will appreciate the way in which the Prime Minister is taking this process through Parliament. He was at the Dispatch Box on Monday and he said in reply to my question that he had an open door to the Leader of the Opposition on this issue. The Leader of the Opposition has asked seven sensible questions today, but has not actually expressed a view on what he might do. Does the Prime Minister think there is room, perhaps even before next week, to get the Leader of the Opposition in and agree a draft motion with him?
As I have always said, my door is open to the Leader of the Opposition. He and his team had a briefing from my national security adviser last night and asked a series of questions that I think got some comprehensive answers. If we decide to go ahead with a vote, having seen a sign of significant support across the House, I will try to draft the broadest possible motion that will attract the widest possible support. If people have suggestions about what they would like to see in that motion, I would be very happy to hear from them.
Let me bring the Prime Minister back to the direct threat to our own constituencies. He will be well aware of individuals from my constituency who were groomed and travelled to fight for Daesh and of an individual from Cardiff city who is believed to have posed a direct threat to the UK as a result of his activities with Daesh. Will he say more about the necessity of going after Daesh in the territory that it controls and how that impacts on actions here, recruitments and actions against this country’s citizens?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, which is why our military objectives are not simply the elimination of terrorist networks, training camps and the rest. While this so-called caliphate exists, and while it is able to broadcast its poison and its message, it is—shockingly—attracting people from right across the world. It does not matter which President or Prime Minister I speak to—I had talks with the Prime Minister of Canada last night, for example, and I shall see many others at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference from all over the world. As long as this so-called caliphate exists, it attracts young people and poses risks to us all.
I thank the Prime Minister for his considered statement, which I very much support. May I ask for his reassurance that the fantastic work in Iraq of the men and women of the Royal Air Force over the past year and more, including most recently at Sinjar in supporting troops on the ground, will not be diluted by any action that we take?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. He asks an important question about the additional resources that would be brought into play if we were to go ahead. That is exactly what we would do. Action would principally be a combination of our Typhoon and Tornado jets, and we will want to continue what we are doing in Iraq while doing more in Syria as well.
I have listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister has said. May I ask him about ensuring whether his strategy is truly comprehensive? I asked on Tuesday about financial flows to Daesh, and I want to ask now what consideration the Prime Minister has given to the economic future for Syria. What plans is he bringing forward, with our international partners, to make sure that the economic future of Syria is sustainable at the point we can make it so?
The hon. Lady asks a very important question. The truth is that ISIL/Daesh has possession of some parts of Syria that have oilfields in them, so it is able to take and sell that oil, sometimes to the Syrian Government, in order to sustain itself and make money. By acting in Syria, we may be able to cut off those flows to an even greater extent that we have done already. As for the future of Syria, the country has natural resources and the great resource of its people; it would, in a transitional form, attract huge support from across the Arab world and the developed world here in the west. We want to see Syria rebuilt, so its people can return there.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am keen to accommodate the remaining interest. However, the pithy replies we have had from the Prime Minister must now be matched by single, short, supplementary questions without preamble.
My hon. Friend has asked an important question. I will report back to the House regularly, but I do not want to put a timeframe on this, because, as what we are doing in Iraq has shown, this is taking time. It is taking time partly because we are not committing ground troops. This is a strategy of relying on, and working with, those on the ground. That takes longer, but the fact that it is a long strategy and a complex strategy does not mean that it is not the right one.
There will be Muslims in this country, particularly young Muslims, who, although they do not support ISIL/Daesh, are concerned about the UK being seen to take military action against other Muslims. Will the Prime Minister address that concern directly, and make it clear that to be anti-ISIL/Daesh is not to be anti-Muslim?
That is absolutely the case. We have seen what Daesh has done to other Muslims. We have seen the torture and the persecution. We have seen people being thrown off buildings, women being subjected to sexual slavery, and the sponsoring of bombs in Ankara and in Beirut, where Muslim upon Muslim has been butchered. Those are the arguments that we need to make to our British Muslim constituents who want to know that we are on the side of Islam as a peaceful religion, and that we are trying to get rid of this murderous death cult.
Two years ago I was opposed to military intervention in Syria, but in the light of the atrocities that took place in Paris last week—and particularly in the light of my right hon. Friend’s statement, the way in which he has dealt with the issue, and the compelling case that he has made—I will support the motion when it is put to the House. Does he agree, however, that this is about ISIL, because it represents a clear and present danger to our constituents?
I accept that ISIL presents a clear and present threat to this country, whether or not we are involved in bombing in Iraq or Syria or both: I need no convincing of what the terrorists’ intentions are. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance that the motion that he will present to the House will rule out any mission creep beyond dealing with ISIL, but may I ask him to go further? I think that the weakness in his argument today relates to the question of who will occupy and control that territory if we force ISIL into retreat. Will he come back to us with more details, in order to convince us that action will result in the outcome that we desire?
I am happy to do that. I have tried to be very clear about the fact that there is not a perfect situation in Syria with huge amounts of ground forces that can do the job that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but it would be wrong to suggest that there are not any. I would also make the point that the more we can be seen to act, the more we can help to build up those forces.
There are those who criticise our international aid budget, and, indeed, there has been some criticism in the press today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that aid is as important to our national security as it is in terms of our moral obligation to the rest of the world?
My hon. Friend is right. That is one of the reasons we are saying that we are going to refashion the budget to ensure that half of it focuses on fragile and conflict-bound states.
Thirty per cent. of ISIL-held land in Iraq has been retained, but 70% remains in its hands. Why is it not right for us to help our allies by clearing the problem of Daesh in Iraq, building a pluralistic state in which Sunnis see a potential future that they can support, and taking the commitment to Iraq before we move on to Syria?
The hon. Lady has asked a very good question, to which I think there are two answers. First, I do not think it is possible to complete the work in Iraq without dealing with Daesh in Syria; it does not recognise a border and we are recognising it. Secondly, although ISIL is a threat to us wherever it is, the head of the snake—the biggest part of the threat—is around Raqqa, which is in Syria.
The people of Calder Valley will rightly want to know one key thing, and that is whether British action in Syria will make a real difference to the situation on the ground and help to make us safer at home. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that will be the case?
I very much believe, on the basis of the military, security and intelligence advice that I have been given, that that is the case, and I can see it myself, because plot after plot against this country has come not just from ISIL, but from around Raqqa. It is ISIL in Syria that is the greater threat to us.
I must declare an interest, in that my husband has been a member of the UK armed forces.
The Prime Minister said that the proposed air involvement could be sustained for many months. Will he give us further clarification? For how many months is it considered that it can be sustained, or indeed would be required to be sustained, at this stage?
I do not want to put a timeframe on the action that we have to take, because obviously the time will depend on the success of degrading and deflating ISIL and the so-called caliphate. As I said in my statement, one of the reasons the allies would like us to take part is that because of the strength and stability of our armed forces, we are a country that can sustain them at a regular tempo of combat rather than surging them up and surging them back down. That makes us a particularly valuable ally in what will undoubtedly be a long and complex campaign.
My right hon. Friend has made a reasoned and principled case for why we must act in Syria in the same way as we are acting in Iraq. Previous experience demonstrates, however, that post-conflict renewal is critical to our ongoing security, and the experience in Sinjar demonstrates that when ISIL leaves, it leaves a humanitarian desert behind it. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that plans are being made in the Department for International
Development, so that when ISIL is finally defeated—as it will be—we shall be in a position to ensure that post-conflict reconstruction and renewal occurs, and occurs well? If that is not already happening, will he ensure that it does happen?
My hon. and learned Friend has made an important point. As soon as areas are liberated from ISIL by, for instance, peshmerga forces or, indeed, Iraqi security forces, our aid budget can come into play, and we can assist at once. The sooner we help, the more we can deliver a real change, and the more we can deal with the issue of migration flow as well.
Those in ISIL have proved themselves to be brutal and merciless killers, but they have recruits from many, many different places. If we can defeat ISIL/Daesh militarily, given that the nature of the threat and the mindset of its members, does that mean eradicating every single man and woman with a connection? If not, where and how do we intend to contain and detain those who are left until they no longer pose a terrorist threat to the places from which they have come?
The hon. Gentleman has asked a question that we could spend a whole day debating. What I will say is that the military action is only one part of a strategy to deal with the enormous problem of radicalised extremist Islam and the violence that it brings. We can do a certain amount with military action, but we need our counter-terrorism powers, we need our Prevent strategy, we need terrorism prevention and investigation measures, and we need strategies to deal with returning Syrian fighters. We need to do all those things, and—as I put it—it will be a generational struggle to get it right.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House—and, indeed, my constituents—that if a decision is made to extend air strikes into Syria, every effort will be made to keep people safe on the streets of Britain, especially during the Christmas period, when our towns and cities are especially busy?
My hon. Friend has asked a very important question. This is part of the strategy to help keep us safe. We cannot deny the fact that there is a danger to our country now—the level of threat is set at severe, which means that an attack is highly likely—but we are already at that level, and the view of our intelligence and security services is that in terms of a threat from ISIL, we are already very high up on its target list.
The Prime Minister has rightly said that peace is a process, not an event. Will he assure me that, while the existence of a diplomatic process it is of course essential, the important effort to broker a political settlement could be made to run in parallel with necessary action to counter the very direct threat that we, as a country, undoubtedly face?
Yes. Given his own considerable military experience, the hon. Gentleman knows a lot about this, and he is completely right: these are parallel processes. I would not be in favour of military action if
I thought that it could somehow derail the political process. My view is that it will assist the political process, for the clear reasons that I have given.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, just as actions have consequences, so does inaction—for Syria, a country with which I am personally familiar, for the region, and for our own country—and that extending military action in a focused and proportionate way, in tandem with a diplomatic and political effort, offers the best hope for a safer future for both Syria and the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. This is a comprehensive strategy that recognises we have to step up to the plate not just militarily but diplomatically and politically.
I assure the House that we all share the objective of defeating ISIS, but there are some critical questions, one of which, as the Prime Minister knows, is whether air strikes alone, without ground forces, can achieve the objective. He points to the 70,000 opposition troops, but there has been debate about that. Do our allies share the view that these are the appropriate troops to take to the ground, and how does he think we can realistically protect them as they do so, without getting into conflict with Russia and others?
Our allies do take the view that we can and should work with these people. The US has played a large role, as have we, in helping to build up and fund these forces.
People are genuinely afraid of the ISIL extremist ideology threatening our way of life—children, men and women, including constituents in Taunton Deane, which might seem miles away but really is not. We cannot live like this. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will push ahead with the measures to defeat this ideology and include a plan to care for Syrians who genuinely have to flee and eventually return?
I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we will go on doing all we can to help Syrians who have fled their homes. She puts it very well. In the end, we have to decide whether to act and confront this evil. In my view, if we do not act, we will be less safe.
The Prime Minister has referred to 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally those of the Free Syrian Army, who do not belong to extremist troops and are ready to act. Only a few weeks ago, the FAC heard that there appeared to be little chance of a legitimate and functioning ally emerging from the chaos on the ground any time soon. What has changed?
Nothing has changed. We have given regular reports about supporting the Free Syrian Army and what we have done to try and bolster their forces, and I have given the House the most accurate statistics I can about their existence. We can either help build them up and work with them, or we can turn away and see their numbers attrited even more.
I welcome today’s comprehensive analysis and clear plan, and I support the Prime Minister, but I am a little concerned about the level of collective resolve to deliver a benign and representative Government in Syria. Will he assure me that we will see this strategy through to the end and not pull out if the military and diplomatic advice he is receiving proves to be optimistic on timescales?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. The advice I am getting is that there is no quick or easy way of solving the problem. We have been committed for four years to humanitarian assistance and to the diplomatic process for many years—remember, we have had Geneva I, Geneva II and now Vienna. In the same way, this whole process will take a long time, and we should be clear about that.
The Prime Minister has stressed that the ISIL-first strategy cannot extend to our intervening as an ally of Assad. In the memorandum to the FAC, he said that an intervention on such terms would be wrong on three grounds: it would misunderstand the causes of the problem; it would make matters worse; and Assad’s rule is one of ISIL’s greatest recruiting sergeants. Does he accept that those valid considerations against such intervention also persuade many of us against intervention on the terms he is commending? We do not want to feed the evil we want to defeat.
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but if we do not intervene against ISIL, we should not be surprised when it grows and threatens us more. Of course there are concerns and difficult questions—it is a complex situation—but, as I have said, just because a strategy is complicated and takes a long time does not mean it is not the right strategy and cannot work. If hon. Members are looking for complexity as a reason to say, “This is difficult, and therefore we cannot support it”, they will not have any trouble finding it—it is complex—but in the end it comes down to some simple judgements about what will make us safer or less safe.
As my right hon. Friend has said, defeating ISIL is the battle of our generation. Does he agree that ISIL are attacking not only our allies but us, attempting terrorist attacks in the UK and poisoning the minds of young people with their ideology? Is now not the time to step up our commitment and take the fight to their stronghold in Syria?
My hon. Friend is right. It is sometimes tempting to think, “If only we left these people alone, we would be safer and everything would be okay”. When it comes to ISIL, that is a completely false prospectus. As my right hon. Friend Dr Fox said, they hate us for what we are, not for what we do. It is worth noting that France was not involved in the Iraq war, yet it was attacked. These people have killed more Muslims than Christians. It is because of their distorted and perverted worldview that they make these attacks, and we should not stand by as they do so.
The Prime Minister is on the record as saying that the UK’s unique contribution to the fight against Daesh is the Brimstone missile, but will he confirm that the Royal Saudi air force has been using the Brimstone missile against Daesh since February? What assessment has been made of its success in diminishing Daesh?
The Brimstone missile, which is a British missile worked on with the RAF and used before, is one of the most capable and accurate weapons systems there is, particularly in the hands of our highly trained RAF pilots. It is not just me saying this; it is the view of our military, as well as of our allies, who are keen for us to help.
I voted against action last time, but I am increasingly likely to support action this time, as long as it is against ISIS and does not involve ground troops. My right hon. Friend is trying to build an international coalition, of course, and yesterday he met the new Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who won an election on the basis of pulling out of air strikes. Has he had any success in convincing him to change his mind?
First, I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s growing support, which I hope to bring to a happy—for us both—conclusion—no, “conclusion” is the wrong word; it is a process, and a never-ending one, I hope.
I had good talks with Prime Minister Trudeau last night. He has made a particular decision about Canadian jets, but he is considering stepping up the training support they provide, particularly to the Iraqi security forces and the peshmerga.
How much will the £1 billion put aside for reconstruction today compare with the total cost of the planned military action, given that the Prime Minister spent 13 times as much on bombing Libya as he did on reconstruction?
Obviously, the amount we spend on the military campaign will depend on how long it lasts, and the amount we spend on reconstruction will depend on how great the needs are, but I say to the hon. Gentleman—a citizen of the United Kingdom—that the UK aid budget is unrivalled almost anywhere in the world. We are capable of bringing an enormous amount to bear on reconstruction.
Like Members on both sides of the House, I came to this statement with a heavy heart, but the Prime Minister has made a compelling case and set out a comprehensive strategy, one of the most compelling elements of which was how Britain’s precision capabilities can save civilian lives. May I encourage him to put saving lives including civilian lives, including Muslim lives, at the heart of any motion he brings before the House?
One of the lessons of Iraq was that the rapidity, scale and organisation of the aid and reconstruction response need to match that of the military intervention. That was a positive lesson from Kosovo, where I played a small part as an aid worker. If the Prime Minister and the International Development Secretary can reassure us that this is the case, he will be able to count on my support.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments, particularly given his experience. My memory is that before Iraq there was a lot of discussion of, and planning for, humanitarian aid packages after the war but no plan for not destroying the institutions of the Iraqi state. As a result, the aid did not touch the sides of the subsequent crisis. This time, we would do things very differently, in the way he suggests.
I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the RAF’s work. The things that I have, as it were, seen with my own eyes and discussed with RAF pilots are the reconnaissance airborne pod for Tornado, the RAPTOR pod—about which it is said that a Tornado could hover over the Isle of Wight and be able to read the hands on Big Ben, such is the capability of its high-definition camera—and the Brimstone missile, which has proved in test after test to be one of the most accurate weapons, with the lowest level of civilian casualties. Those two things are very important.
The Prime Minister spoke of a new Government in Syria that would govern for all the people. Will he explain how and when he envisages installing a Government that would represent and be supported by all sides in the aftermath of a bloody and immensely complicated civil war?
Obviously the emergence of a transition in Syria will require the Vienna process to work, and to work well. The reason I have greater confidence is that a few months ago there was no process. The Iranians, the Saudis, the Russians and the Americans are now all sitting round the table together. That is real progress.
It is clear from recent events that the airspace over Syria is very complex. Can the Prime Minister assure me that, if and when a proposal comes forward to mount air strikes against ISIL, there will be a co-ordination strategy between the various air forces that are taking action over Syria?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that guarantee. There is already a deconfliction strategy, and the RAF would be part of that. We can give further details closer to the time.
I was struck by what one of my constituents said last weekend, which was that the attacks that happened in Paris could easily have happened in north Wales. There is no doubt that such attacks could happen not only in our major cities but in our towns and villages as well. There is immense concern about that. Let us assume that the House gives its support to the Prime Minister for these air strikes. Can he outline how he and his Secretaries of State will update the House on what is happening? If there is to be support, there must also be consensus afterwards.
As I have said, I am very happy to be guided by what the House would find most helpful. I think that regular updates from the Dispatch Box would be useful, and I would also be happy to have discussions with Select Committees as appropriate. Perhaps we could look at putting something into the motion, should a motion come forward, to guarantee regular updates so that colleagues could be kept informed.
We have heard shocking reports from the United Nations of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by ISIL against the civilian population in Syria, including the beheading of a female dentist for the crime of treating patients of both sexes. Does the Prime Minister agree that the only practicable way for us to hold the leadership of ISIL to account for these crimes against humanity is to engage in the type of military action that he is proposing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He speaks clearly about this issue. Frankly, we should document the many crimes against Muslims in Syria and Iraq that are being carried out by this brutal organisation.
I was disappointed to hear the Prime Minister say that we cannot look back to what happened in Iraq, because if we do not look back, we will not learn anything. Would he concede that if the Chilcot inquiry had produced its report, we would be better informed as to how best to handle this complex situation?
First, if we had had our way over the Iraq inquiry from the start, it would have been published by now. I am not saying that we should not look back and learn. I am absolutely saying that we should look back and learn. Let us learn about the importance of clear processes, legal advice, the Joint Intelligence Committee and all those things. I think you have heard that today. The only point I am making is that we should not go back to what happened in Iraq and therefore enter a freeze where we are incapable of making the decisions that are necessary to keep our country safe in the future.
Daesh is obviously a material threat that needs to be challenged, and the Prime Minister has set that out well today, but will he tell us why he believes that the Russians and Iran would step back from backing Assad and attacking the Free Syrian Army when we attack the mortal enemy, Daesh?
This is obviously the conversation we have to have, particularly with the Russians. Up to now, they have said that Assad should on no account go, and we have said that we want to see him go. As I have said, however, the gap between us has narrowed, because everybody accepts that there needs to be a transition. I have a strong view about Assad but, as I keep saying, it is not so much a political preference as a statement of fact: I do not think that that man is capable of leading a united Syria. That is not just my view; it is the view of the Syrian people. A growing understanding of that is one of the things that is driving forward the Vienna process.
Does the Prime Minister agree with his former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, that ultimately the world will have to redraw the map and create a Sunni state in northern Iraq and northern Syria? If so, does he think that makes a resolution of the situation easier or harder?
I hope that that will not be necessary. I think we should try to respect the territorial integrity of those countries. There are many countries around the world that manage to hold together despite having ethnic and religious differences within them. It would be a slight counsel of despair to believe that we have to end up with a Sunnistan, a Shi’astan and a Kurdistan. We should try to do what those countries want, which is to help to bring them together.
May I offer my right hon. Friend my complete support for the approach that he is taking? I hear what he says about the use of British ground troops, but the situation can change rapidly in conflicts. If it was in our military interests to deploy a limited number of ground troops, would he do that, and would he be required to come back to the House to gain our approval for such a deployment?
I have said what I have said about ground troops, and I do not propose to change that. The motion needs to set out clearly what I am seeking the House’s permission to do. I would want that to be relatively clear and constrained; I would not want people to believe that some sort of mission creep was taking place. I am very happy to listen to people’s views on what the motion should have in it.
The Prime Minister has described Raqqa as the head of the snake but, as the story goes, when you cut the head off a snake, seven new heads grow. How can he ensure that the snake is not in fact a Hydra that will emerge stronger in other parts of the region, such as Libya or Tunisia?
There is a difference between snakes, with which I am quite familiar, and the Hydra of myth and legend. Maybe we need to have a deeper conversation about that. Look, it is not just my view that Raqqa is the head of the snake; it is. That is where the plots have come from, which is why acting only in Iraq and not in Syria is restricting our effectiveness.
Like many in the House, I am pleased that today’s statement has a strong focus on post-conflict reconstruction. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how widely that priority is shared by our EU allies such as Germany and by the nearby Arab states?
I think it is widely understood that what must follow all this is a genuine reconstruction of Syria. Millions of people want to go home, and towns and cities will need to be rebuilt. An enormous amount of investment will need to go into the country, and once the conflict is over, that can begin. This has widespread support across the EU.
I would say that the resolution is fairly comprehensive; I have read out some of the key terms in it. It was unanimously adopted and it has that key chapter VII language in it about “all necessary measures”, even though it is not chapter VII itself. Look, in all these things, one can seek perfection or one can say, “We have UN backing, we have a political process, we have allies asking us to act and we have the advice from our intelligence and security forces about the dangers that we face.” In the end, with all that, there comes a decision, and that is the decision I think we need to take.
One of the things we have learned from the Iraq war is that, because of the difference of views, it aggravated the separation between British Muslims and the rest of the British population. That gave rise to an irrational fear of people because they were Muslims and led to an increase in the attacks on people in this country because they were Muslims. Is the Prime Minister sure that that will not happen again as a consequence of the decisions that he makes after today?
I always listen carefully to my hon. Friend, not least because he works so hard to represent a very multi-ethnic, multi-faith constituency in Bedford. My impression is that British Muslims are absolutely clear that Daesh/ISIL and this so-called “caliphate” have nothing to do with the religion they care about. I went to Friday morning prayers under the town hall in Chipping Norton recently, where the British Muslims in west Oxfordshire gather, and they all said that in unison; the first thing they said as I walked in the room was, “These terrible people. Prime Minister, they have got nothing to do with us.” You feel their pain in having to say that, so I do not think we should fear that taking action will do damage in that way.
Will the Prime Minister give us his best estimate of the likelihood in reasonable time of a ceasefire between the major non-Daesh forces in Syria that would allow an effective deployment of ground troops to take and hold Daesh territory?
That is a very good question. The Vienna process is supposed to deliver that sort of ceasefire between the Free Syrian Army forces and other moderate forces, and the Assad regime. Obviously, that would assist in the destruction of ISIL. It would not necessarily instantly add to the number of ground forces. But the argument I am making is about taking these steps in parallel; I do not believe we can afford to wait until all of these circumstances, including a transition in Syria, come about before we act. That is the crucial question the hon. Gentleman will have to ask himself.
In order to succeed, I hope the Prime Minister will not leave the House, given the supportive mood here, and use his considerable brilliance and resources to draft a crafty motion when what he needs to be doing is forming those coalitions of ground troops that we all agree we so badly need.
Let me reassure my hon. Friend that there is no ambition to draft a crafty motion. I am trying to take as much of the House of Commons with me as I can in taking this important and difficult decision. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will have particular concerns: that there should not be mission creep; that this is about saving Muslim lives in the region as well as saving British lives at home; that there will be regular reports back to Parliament; and that this is part of an overall strategy. All those points, and others, can be properly set out in a motion that I hope would achieve the maximum support in this House.
As one of those who voted against the war in the key vote on
That is very much what I meant. I think we should be stepping up what is happening in Syria, but given our accuracy, I would expect that, all things being equal, we would be taking the place in some instances of others and therefore the point the hon. Gentleman makes is valid.
My hon. and learned Friend asks a very good question, which goes to this moral point: is it really a moral stance to say, “Our allies are taking the action that protects us, so therefore we don’t need to act.”? Without getting too deep into moral philosophy, if we take the Kantian imperative, we should be following them rather than standing away from them, because otherwise no one would take the action.
All colleagues should be familiar with the Kantian imperative. It is very helpful to be reminded of that by the Prime Minister.
Since the Prime Minister and I entered the House in 2001, we have been asked on four occasions to support military action. On some of those occasions I voted yes and on others I voted no, depending on the merit of the case. Nobody doubts the ability and bravery of the armed forces, but there is great doubt about the ground forces in Syria. My question to him is simply this: if increased bombing leads to increased refugees, will he reconsider the figure he has put on the number of refugees?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right to consider each case on its merits, and I hope he will consider this case very carefully. The decision with respect to Iraq has clearly shown benefits, and I believe the same can happen in Syria. On the refugee numbers, we have set out our plans. Of course we keep that under review and listen to the arguments, but the most important thing right now, particularly given some of the difficulties faced by the relocation programmes within the EU, is for us to get on and deliver. That is why I am very keen to restate that I am confident that we will have 1,000 people here by Christmas.
Military action in Syria may be a necessary part of stopping ISIL, but a diplomatic solution is vital. Can the Prime Minister reassure me and my constituents that if military action is taken, he will not take his eye off the ball on a political settlement?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. More of the philosophy: the military action is a necessary condition but it is certainly not a sufficient condition either to destroy ISIL or to build the peaceful Syria that we all want to see.
The Prime Minister has spoken repeatedly about the need for a transition in Syria to a new Government, and there will be widespread support in this House for the process that was started in Vienna. I am concerned to get clarity on the Government’s attitude in the here and now, because that process will take time. Is their view and advice to this House that a successful ground offensive can be undertaken against Daesh in Syria without the involvement or without reference to the existing Syrian armed forces?
The answer to that question is that with the ground forces that there are in Syria with whom we are working we can have additional impact on ISIL through carrying out the air strikes and the air-to-ground support that we are talking about. That can assist us—otherwise, I would not be standing here or arguing for it. Is it perfect? No, it is not. Would it be assisted by further ground troops, following a transition in Syria? Yes, it would. But action now can make a difference.
To have a chance of success, it is critical that political aims on the future of Syria are agreed by the coalition at the outset, which is not the case at the moment, and that a strategy is developed. That strategy needs to look at who will co-ordinate the ground troops, how they will manage that co-ordination, what will happen where there are gaps in existing ground troops and, most importantly, how we will rebuild a country in which 60% of hospitals are already nearly destroyed or destroyed completely. Getting that political strategy agreed is more important than saying, “I hope it will come with air strikes.”
I say to the hon. Gentleman that all those elements are in place: there is a co-ordination mechanism for troops on the ground; there is a plan to reconstruct this country after the war is over; and there is a plan for the transition to take place. Yes, it is complicated and it will take a long time, but that does not mean that there is not a plan, or that it is not the right one.
I admire the sincerity and conviction of the Prime Minister, but if after months of intensive bombing the Free Syrian Army cannot take Raqqa and has become mired in atrocities it is committing, and there is limited progress on a wider settlement, what will he then ask this House to do?
I will come back to the House regularly and update it on the progress made. In Iraq, we have made progress: we have seen a reduction of 30% in ISIL’s territory, and it is definitely less capable in Iraq than it was. I believe we can have a similar effect in Syria, and I will report back regularly. As I say, we are not dealing with perfection here; we are dealing with the action that I believe we can take that will help to keep us safe, and that will progressively work to degrade and destroy this so-called “caliphate”; that is what we are discussing, and I will give regular progress reports.
The Prime Minister said in his statement that there was “daily contact and pragmatic military planning to ensure the safety of all coalition forces.” Given the shooting down of the Russian plane by Turkey, one of our NATO allies, and the massive dangers that entails in terms of escalation, can he say a little more on the communications strategy between the anti-Daesh forces that he foresees?
If we were to take part in this action, we would be part of the clearance mechanism that there is between the American-led coalition and the Russians to make sure that these things are deconflicted. The issue for us does not arise with Turkey, because we have overfly rights and Turkey is part of the coalition against ISIL. Clearly, work needs to be done between Russia and Turkey, but that is quite separate from any consideration we would have.
Should not intervention follow the effective assembly of local ground forces and an international coalition, rather than be a catalyst for them? Given that the Assad regime is responsible for the overwhelming number of atrocities and deaths in Syria, does the Prime Minister agree that any action we take that sustains that regime is unacceptable?
We believe that taking this action will help to bolster the ground troops that are there. The fact is that, although they have had the support of Britain, America, the Arab states and others, they have had a miserable time, and because of the activities of the regime and of ISIL, they have faced a very difficult situation. The question for us is: does the action that I am proposing help them? Yes, it does. Does it help to bring about a political solution? Yes, it does. Crucially, does it help to keep us safe here at home? Yes, I very much believe that it does.
Military intervention requires a just cause, and the Prime Minister has argued for that just cause superbly today; and intervention has to be done with good intention, and he has shown today that it would be. For those in the House who are still uncertain, the weakness of the analysis is around the winnability strategy on the ground, and the need to not create a vacuum that will be filled by something worse.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. As I have said, there is no 100% certainty; there is no perfection here. When we talk about winnability, I think about the dangers to us right now. I am talking about losability to our people, our country and our safety. We have to think about the danger of inaction, as well as all the uncertainties of action.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you for the exercise. Two and a half hours into this statement, will the Prime Minister share with the House some of the details of the seven foiled plots? I am talking about the nature or the targets of the attacks, the cities, the spread of those attacks, and how serious they were for the entire United Kingdom.
I must be careful in what I say. From time to time, the Home Affairs Committee interviews the director general of our Security Service, and he may be able to give more detail. What we have seen to date is a series of attacks either inspired by ISIL’s propaganda or directed by it. Obviously, we had the attacks that we avoided that were the product of Hussain and Khan, who have since been neutralised by the action that we have taken. The reason for such enhanced concern today is that what we were seeing with ISIL were attacks that were fairly ill planned, but that relied on radicalised individuals to take rapid action, sometimes with a knife, and sometimes in other ways. We have seen with Paris a change to a much more planned and thought-through attack strategy, such as we used to see with al-Qaeda when it was embedded in the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is one reason for the heightened concern. That combination of desperate psychopathic killers and a higher element of planning that the Paris attacks showed is one reason why my concern leads me to believe that we have to act, and act now.
Mike Kane reminded us of the three absolute prerequisites that need to be in place before military action can be justified. If the only objective is to reduce the likelihood of attacks on UK citizens in the United Kingdom, we can argue that any attack on Daesh is effective. If we also want to ensure that we do not leave behind an environment in which a new Daesh can find encouragement, we have to do more. A ceasefire among the warring non-Daesh factions in and around Syria is not a striving for perfection, but an absolute requirement. Today, the Prime Minister has given us no cause for optimism that such a ceasefire is imminent. Will he tell us what pressure will be put on our NATO ally, Turkey, to stop bombing the Kurds, so that the Kurds can concentrate on working with us to get rid of Daesh?
The whole concept of ceasefires has come a lot closer because of the Vienna process. Frankly, those ceasefires between moderate Syrian opposition forces and Government forces would be helped by a more concerted effort to degrade and destroy ISIL in Syria. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s main question, I am not arguing that there is a military-only solution to this conflict. There needs to be political, diplomatic, humanitarian and post-conflict reconstruction action. I come to the House with a strategy for all those things. I say to Members of the Scottish National party that I hope that they will give this matter their fullest possible thought. They do not have to vote as one block; they can think about these important issues and come to a considered opinion.
I thank you, Mr Speaker. The exercise has done me a lot of good, too. I thank the Prime Minister for taking so much time to talk to us as parties and give us all a chance to ask questions. We want to see Daesh totally defeated, but I wish to frame my question in this way: will we see more aid—military, medical and humane—on the ground as soon as possible, and given to those whom we trust? We need to work with Baghdad to make sure that the aid gets to them accurately, particularly to the internally displaced persons who are not getting all that has been passed over to them.
Yes, I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There is a plan already in place for putting in the aid and the assistance, and particularly the military assistance to the Iraqi Government. Over time, there is more that we can do for the moderate Syrian opposition. All of that is part of a strategy that can keep us safer here while building a more secure and stable middle east. In the end, that is what this is about. I hope that the clear sight and clarity of argument that the Ulster men and women bring to this argument will find them in the right Division Lobby at the end of the process.
Order. I am extremely grateful to the Prime Minister. No fewer than 103 Back Benchers have had the opportunity to question him in 130 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time. I hope that colleagues feel that they have had an adequate opportunity to speak.