Why I voted against military action in Syria

This was never going to be an easy decision, I believe MPs should think long and hard before they make such decisions. It was right that Labour MPs were given a free vote because I’ve become convinced that issues of such importance and conscience shouldn’t be subject to normal party discipline.

Of the large number of people who responded to my constituency survey on this very important matter, 48% were in favour of taking action against ISIL/Daesh but not sure airstrikes in Syria were the best thing to do, 33% opposed military action in Syria and 9% supported the Prime Minister’s case.

I recognise that those who oppose military action feel strongly and I acknowledge that pacifism is a perfectly respectable point of view although it’s not one that I share. Nor do I agree with the views expressed by the Stop the War movement. I believe this country is already at war with ISIL/Daesh who are an evil, murderous death cult that might reasonably be equated with Fascism. There are now credible reports of murders, rapes, the sale of women for sex, the brutalisation of children and the most barbaric activities occurring in places like Raqqa and Sinjar.

I want to make it clear that my decision was not about whether or not we should go to war, it was about whether or not the extension of military action into Syria was likely to succeed.

There is a persuasive argument for liberating Raqqa and destroying their command and control operations there but it is my assessment that we would need a proper ground army to do this. The reason we are recovering territory in Iraq is that the Peshmerga are a relatively disciplined fighting force capable of responding to advice from military advisers and making good use of the aerial support provided by the RAF. The situation in Raqqa is quite different. There is no ground force, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) whom the Prime Minister has suggested might play that role is a disparate collection of para militaries and tribesmen, many of them commit atrocities as bad as ISIL and have little respect for Western values. The suggestion that 70,000 of them could be made available seems fanciful and in any event they are mostly engaged in fighting President Assad’s troops rather than ISIL. I welcome the talks in Vienna but I don’t share the Prime Minister’s optimism about the progress they will make and I doubt very much that we will see a breakthrough within 6 months. I am also very concerned at the mounting evidence that the Turkish President’s son is heavily implicated in the smuggling of illegal ISIL oil. For these reasons I opposed an extension of military action because I have real doubts that it will succeed, not because I believe that it is wrong to take on ISIL/Daesh.

Finally I want to make it clear that those who think this is about the Labour Party are wrong. This is about our country, the Syrian people and our long term security in the face of an evil enemy who wishes to destroy our way of life. They kill Muslims and Christians with equal impunity. I would have arrived at my decision by the same process of consulting constituents, listening to experts, reading and thinking about the issues irrespective of who had been the Prime Minister or Leader of the Labour Party. Those who think this is an opportunity to advance a case within the Labour Party or who believe that threatening or intimidating MPs is the way to improve Labour’s standing or help people make difficult decisions are profoundly wrong. Everyone is entitled to lobby their MP and I welcome the range of views which people have expressed to me over this matter but I’m not interested in those who have contempt for the views of others or our democratic institutions. Many of my close friends came to a different conclusion, I respect their decisions and I know they agonised as much as me before reaching that judgement.

As long as I am your Member of Parliament, I will continue to listen, consult and do my best to explain the decisions I take but I’m not prepared to be anyone’s puppet. 

By Steve McCabe MP

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