Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Crossbench 4:31 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, during my diplomatic career, my normal posture vis-à-vis Foreign Secretaries was for me to say a few words and then bow my head lightly while I was given a detailed and well-judged critique of what I had said. I cannot imagine a more appropriate moment to reverse that than to have the privilege of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hague, on an expectedly brilliant maiden speech. The noble Lord is a very distinguished former Foreign Secretary, a very distinguished biographer—I cannot praise William Wilberforce too highly—and a brilliant orator. I cannot imagine a better conjugation of talents for your Lordships’ House than political experience, historical wisdom and oratorical genius. If the maiden speech that we have heard is a prelude of what is to come, we can only look forward with impatience, as the French would say, to further treats in store.

Having said that, I must rapidly regain my independence by recalling that I spoke against military action in Syria two years ago because it was not clear what the targets would be or what the objectives were. I spoke for military action against Daesh last year but argued that we should do so with our eyes wide open and recognised that when—and I believed that it was “when” and not “if”—the Government put forward proposals for action against Syria, we should have to accept that our allies would in some ways be unfortunate or unpleasant and include Iran, but more particularly that we would have to accept that action against ISIL—Daesh—must take precedence against action against Assad. We cannot have two conflicting objectives at the same time.

There is no doubt that Daesh continues to be a direct threat to the United Kingdom, as we saw in Tunisia and as others have seen only too clearly recently, notably in Paris, from which I returned this morning. There is in addition a clear and unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution authorising all necessary measures against Daesh and denying them a safe haven in Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, joining the United States, France and others by extending action against Daesh into Syria will add capability to that action and will strengthen our hand in pressing for effective diplomatic action to find a political settlement in Syria; for example, through the International Syria Support Group. Stepping up that search in parallel with military action is essential.

Equally, we have to be realistic about this. Getting those negotiations going, let alone completing them, is going to be fraught, complex and time-consuming and will not easily take place in parallel with the necessary military action. We cannot, as the noble Baroness said in introducing this debate, do no nothing while we wait for a long and drawn-out diplomatic process to continue; we have to try to do both at the same time. We have to take decisions on the basis of the judgments and evidence we have before us now.

I have nothing but respect for those who take a different view on the case for action against Syria and I see no advantage whatever in denigrating them, but I have no doubt, either, that extending military action against Daesh from Iraq into Syria is now the right thing to do.