Saturday 16 December 2017

British air strikes on Syrian targets more likely after Corbyn vote U-turn

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves in home in north London, Britain November 30, 2015
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves in home in north London, Britain November 30, 2015

Oliver Wright in London

Jeremy Corbyn will publicly clash with his own shadow foreign secretary in the British parliament as Labour spectacularly failed to heal its rift over whether to oppose military action in Syria.

At a fractious and at times hostile meeting of the shadow cabinet, Mr Corbyn was accused by his shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, of trying to "throw MPs to the wolves" of left-wing activists in an attempt to force them to vote against air strikes.

Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, then warned Mr Corbyn that he would "speak from the back benches" if he was banned from siding with David Cameron's plan for military intervention during the Commons debate.

Other shadow cabinet members accused Mr Corbyn of "deplorable" behaviour and a "lack of respect" after they discovered Mr Corbyn's aides briefed a journalist about the outcome of the meeting before it had even begun.

A majority of the shadow cabinet then said they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader dropped the leaked proposal that was due to change party policy to officially oppose military action.

As a result of the meeting Labour's policy will remain ambiguously vague and party MPs will be given a free vote in the debate on air strikes, which is now expected to take place tomorrow. Mr Corbyn will open the debate for Labour opposing the plan while Mr Benn, who will sit alongside him, will set out the case in favour.

Mr Corbyn's spokesman admitted that the arrangement was "certainly unusual" but denied it was "shambolic". He insisted that Mr Corbyn's stance reflected official party policy.

This, though, was rejected by the Labour leader's opponents, who accused the Corbyn camp of attempting to fix a meeting of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee at the weekend to change Labour's policy.

It was only when this failed, they claimed, that Mr Corbyn was forced to concede a free vote. Labour's policy is currently that it would only support air strikes if certain pre-conditions were met, including UN authorisation.

In a statement last night Mr Cameron announced that he would be calling for a Commons vote on air strikes. "I will be recommending to the Cabinet that there be a debate and vote in the House of Commons on a motion to participate in coalition air strikes against Isil in Syria," he said.

"Isil poses a very direct threat to the United Kingdom. British air strikes can play a key role in degrading them (as) part of a comprehensive strategy for Syria."

Mr Corbyn's supporters claim that only around 30 to 40 Labour MPs will vote in favour of air strikes but those in favour believe that number is likely to be at least 50.

Mr Cameron expects the motion to pass with a "clear majority". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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