17 APR 2018

Syria

Any thoughts that the UK is going to engage in a bombing campaign of the civilian population of Syria have been proved to be very wide of the mark. Theresa May took the decision to undertake a small, limited and targeted strike against the chemical weapons facilities of Syria. The decision has been supported by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the Prime Minister of Denmark, the Spanish Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister of Australia, the NATO Secretary General, the ...Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of the EU Council and the Chancellor of Germany, amongst others. It was also spported by many Labour MPs. They have taken this view because I believe the evidence is very clear that the Assad regime was responsible for "the foaming at the mouth, the floppy bodies of children, and the particular terror those weapons deliberately inspire".

The UK has been operating in Syria with humanitarian assistance and will continue to do so, as far as it is possible. It is making a real difference, providing life-saving and life-changing humanitarian support to the people of Syria, and those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Since 2012, across Syria and the region, UK aid has delivered over 26 million food rations that feed a person for a month, 10.3 million medical consultations, 9.8 million relief packages, and over 8 million vaccines. In 2016/17 alone, UK aid reached over 5 million people with clean water. We are te second largest aid donor in the country. That shows a real concern for the humanitarian situation amongst Syrians.

I disagree with claims that more bombing of the type we undertook would increase the suffering of the Syrian people. I believe the limited and targeted nature of this bombing avoided this but still achieved our objective. We cannot sit by and accept the use of these vile chemical weapons simply because they run the risk of a confrontation with Russia. The lack of humanitarian concern that this implies would be surprising in the extreme. How many more children have to gasp for life in the face of these chemical weapons particularly as the regime prepares for an attack on Idlib. It also suggests that we live in a world where the Russians always have the whip hand.

The view that Theresa May should have sought the permission of Parliament first is more complex. This to some extent is an issue of judgement. Having listened to the Statement that the Prime Minister gave in the House, I believe the need to act with speed and to alleviate further humanitarian suffering were paramount. These happen to be the circumstances in which a Prime Minister is encouraged to act and I believe it was appropriate. It is sad to observe that the political and diplomatic route had failed. Attempts to involve the UN were frustrated by Russian vetoes, preventing any meaningful dialogue.

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