Jim Wallace responds to the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria

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Jim Wallace

From these Benches we unequivocally condemn atrocities perpetrated by ISIL, be they in Paris, Ankara, Sharm el-Sheikh, Tunisia or Beirut, or indeed the day-in, day-out victimisation of people in the Middle East. We have also recognised that in defeating an enemy like ISIL the use of military force will be necessary, and indeed we have supported air strikes in Iraq. But the use of lethal force should never be used simply as a gesture—not even a symbolic gesture. It has to have effect. And to have effect, it must surely be part of a wider strategy, not least on the diplomatic front. So the challenge is not whether the Government have made a case to justify bombing but whether they have a strategy to bring stability to the region and lay the foundations for a peaceful future for Syria.

We have consistently called for a diplomatic effort to put together a wider coalition, including others who have an interest in the defeat of jihadism, notably Russia and Iran. While it is understandable, it is not right either to have a knee-jerk reaction to engage in air strikes in Syria or to avoid being involved in another conflict in the Middle East at all costs. Given the gravity of the question that we are being asked, we will look carefully at the Government’s response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and take a considered response.

In doing so, we will apply five tests to what the Prime Minister has said. First, is military intervention legal? In fairness, the response that we have had today is reassuring on that point. Secondly, is there a wider diplomatic framework, including efforts towards a no-bomb zone to protect civilians? Thirdly, will the UK lead a concerted international effort to stop the funding of jihadi groups within the region? Fourthly, is there a post-ISIL plan for Syria and Iraq? Fifthly, what is the Government’s plan domestically? I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could provide the House with further details. What is the Government’s plan for post-conflict reconstruction, especially in terms of the vacuum that would inevitably be created in an immediate post-ISIL Syria? What discussions are the Government having with Turkey about its contribution to the fight against ISIL? Can we be assured that we fully share each other’s objectives?

The document before us helpfully discusses the precision with which on a number of occasions our own military capabilities can add to the current actions. However, as we have seen from recent TV reports, some of those already engaged in the region do not act with the same kind of restraint and precision as we can and would. So if we were to become engaged in military action, what responsibility would we have for the actions of other members of the coalition? Perhaps more importantly, what influence could we bring to bear on other members of the coalition with regard to the restraint and precision with which they would take action?

What pressure is being put on our coalition partners in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to rejoin the air strikes, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown asked at Questions? They appear not to have been involved in them for some months. What are the Government doing to ensure that they play their part? I am sure that we agree that ISIL would like nothing better than to be able to frame a narrative that the conflict was one between the crusading West and them as defenders of Islam. We must give the lie to that, and that requires the evident and active involvement of coalition partners from the region itself.

Further, what efforts are being made to stop the funding and supply of resources to ISIL? Do the Government have confidence that some of our coalition partners are doing enough within their own countries to stop the funding of ISIL and other extremist groups? The strategy before us does not seem to address that question. What further steps do the Government intend to take into investigating foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups at home in the United Kingdom?

It is disappointing that the document says nothing about trying to have a no-bomb zone, which would help the refugee and humanitarian situation in the region and beyond. Humanitarian aid alone, while important, cannot stop the flows of people, and there is huge pressure on Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which cannot maintain the numbers in refugee camps within their borders.

Finally, since we cannot separate the domestic and international aspects of the fight against ISIL, will the Leader of the House tell us what steps the Government are taking or intend to take to ensure that, in the event of action, the British Muslim population fully understand and are supportive of the actions that the Government propose?

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