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Turkish Incursion into Northern Syria

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

I thank both you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question and Mr Ellwood for securing it. As he and I and many other colleagues warned last week, the situation in northern Syria has gone from bad to worse to utterly catastrophic and horrifying since the Trump Administration withdrew their troops and gave a green light to Turkey to invade. As we have seen, it is not just Turkey’s airstrikes and artillery barrage that have caused the deaths of dozens of innocent civilians, but the barbaric actions of the jihadi death squads, armed and supported by Turkey, which are now freely operating inside Rojava. May I ask the Minister whether, as part of the Government’s welcome review of arms sales to Turkey, which I believe is worth £1.1 billion, they will look specifically at whether any of the arms that our country has supplied to Turkey have ended up in the hands of the jihadi militants?

It is clear to anyone with any understanding of the situation in Syria that if the Kurds did not have the support of the US and faced another Turkish invasion, they would be driven reluctantly into the hands of Assad and Russia simply for their own protection, and, sadly, that has proved correct. Was the Foreign Office in any way surprised at what has recently happened? Yet again, it prompts the question, which I hope the Secretary of State will answer today, about the Government’s strategy on Syria. It seems likely that responsibility for tackling the Daesh remnants, escapees, and sleeper cells will fall, not to the coalition, but to the Kurds and the Assad regime between them. It seems likely that the Kurds will be brought into the constitutional reform committee, and that once the other areas are stabilised, there will be a merciless assault on the areas of Idlib held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, at which point the war will effectively be over. Again, I ask the Secretary of State: what is the Government’s strategy? Was he surprised when the Defence Secretary seemed to be a dog in the manger on the word “condemn” yesterday at the NATO summit? Was he concerned that The Times reported his comments as ones that seem to be giving support to the Turkish action, and will he make it clear that we certainly do not support the Turkish action? Finally, may I ask him this very specific question: before Donald Trump took his catastrophic decision to withdraw US troops from Rojava, did he inform the British Government?