Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:17 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour 7:17 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I take a view which differs from that of the majority of noble Lords who have spoken, although I agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and others. However, I do not wish to endorse the views expressed the other evening by the leader of the Labour Party, which I thought were quite mistaken. In particular, I oppose his view that somehow a political settlement is opposed to a military settlement—it is either jaw-jaw or war-war. That is not so. They are not alternatives but part of the same process. You need military pressure to get negotiations going and to protect them after a settlement is created.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, rightly observed, Syria is not Iraq. I was strongly opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and marched against it. That was a great disaster. The situation is different now. Our relationship with the United Nations is different. Our relationships with our allies—notably France—is very different. France was, of course, totally opposed to British action in 2003 and now it is begging us to come in. My views have been much influenced by having been in Paris the day after 13 November and seeing the appalling grief of French citizens, including my wife, over what had happened.

However, I say with all deference that I am not persuaded by the Government’s arguments. There are sufficient resemblances to Iraq to make one very cautious. This action will be seen as a foreign invasion. We will be intervening in a prolonged civil war. The action will help to radicalise Muslims in this country, will probably lead to large-scale loss of civilian life and will make this country less safe in the immediate future, so we need to be very clear about the justification.

First, it was said in this morning’s Independent by Patrick Cockburn that the plans are based on,

“wishful thinking and poor information”,

and I agree. The Prime Minister’s Statement said almost nothing about the likely effectiveness or the precise military impact of air strikes. As many other noble Lords have said, air strikes have not had an effect in Libya and in other campaigns. It would be absurd to say they will not have any effect. They might well help to limit the spread of Daesh/ISIL. They might assist in the disruption of oil flows, but they will not make Daesh/ISIL withdraw. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, correctly said, they will lead to ground forces coming in, and that was not discussed.

Secondly, very briefly, who are we fighting with? I believe that the phantom army of 70,000 will be the Prime Minister’s “45 minutes”—a purely imaginary construct. They are miscellaneous, quite as barbarous as Daesh/ISIL. They see us as enemies just as much as Daesh/ISIL does.

Finally, where is the strategy for obtaining a settlement? There will have to be a settlement. Daesh/ISIL are barbarians, desperately cruel, but we know that in the end there will have to be a negotiated settlement, however appalling our enemies are. So it happened with Lloyd George and Sinn Fein/IRA in 1921, and it will happen again. I do not see any particular steer about how negotiations will take place or what view we will take of Sunni grievances in Syria. We need more detail and I am afraid, for me, the Government’s case is less than compelling.