Thursday 22 March 2018

Cameron tables bid for UK to launch air strikes on Isil in Syria

A peace protester outside Downing Street yesterday.
A peace protester outside Downing Street yesterday.

Dean Gray London

David Cameron has tabled the motion for Syrian air strikes after his Cabinet gave their "unanimous" support for military action.

The British Prime Minister has insisted that Britain must act to counter Isil's threat to the country.

He stressed to a meeting of his cabinet that the UK would work with Middle Eastern allies, was "clear" on the "complexities" involved and said bombing was part of a "wider strategy" which included diplomatic talk. He tabled the motion for Syrian air strikes after his Cabinet gave their "unanimous" support for military action yesterday morning.

More than 20 people round the cabinet table spoke out in favour of bombing during an hour-long meeting described as "very serious" by Number 10.

Mr Cameron began the meeting saying Britain must act to counter Isil's threat to the country.

He was followed by Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, who talked about the political process for peace; Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who discussed national security; and Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, who detailed Britain's military capabilities.

Cabinet ministers were also given the "legal basis for action" by Jeremy Wright, the Attorney General, and details about the humanitarian position in Syria and reconstruction by Justine Greening, the International Development secretary.

Downing Street made clear that RAF bombing missions against Isil - also known as Daesh - in Syria are likely to start within days if MPs back military action in a crunch vote this evening.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's decision to allow his MPs a free vote looks certain to deliver Mr Cameron the clear majority for air strikes that he is seeking, with 50 or more Labour MPs expected to join Tories and Ulster unionists in backing action.

But Mr Corbyn insisted "more and more" Labour MPs were becoming sceptical about the proposals, warning: "We are not going to bomb our way to democracy."

Cabinet unanimously gave its formal approval to a motion which not only authorises air strikes in Syria, but also sets out plans to pursue a political solution to the Middle Eastern country's four-year civil war, commits Britain to humanitarian support and assistance with post-conflict reconstruction and rules out the deployment of UK ground combat troops.

Speaking after the meeting in Number 10, Mr Cameron said: "That motion talks about, yes, the necessity of taking military action against Isil in Syria as well as Iraq, but it is part of a broader strategy.

"It's about politics and diplomacy and humanitarian aid, all of which we need to bring to bear to bring peace to Syria but to make sure we protect our national interest of fighting against this appalling terrorist organisation."

The PM added: "I will be making the arguments and I hope as many members of parliament - across all parties - will support me as possible."

Mr Cameron's spokeswoman said the mood at the weekly cabinet meeting was "very serious", with the PM stressing "the complexities of the challenges we face, and the fact that this will require patience and persistence".

Ministers were briefed by Attorney General Mr Wright on the legal basis for action, which rests on the UN Charter right for the UK to defend itself and its allies.

Mr Cameron said that the prospect of putting members of the armed forces in harm's way "obviously preys very heavily on my mind", but said that he was following a "very deliberate and proper process" in securing political support.

His weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions today has been cancelled to allow for 10 and a half hours' debate in the Commons - which Downing Street pointed out was significantly longer than the seven and a half hours prior to the launch of strikes against Isil in Iraq and the two and a half before the Falklands War.

The vote is expected around 10pm tonight, but Labour continued to press for debate to be extended to two days, and Commons Speaker John Bercow said he was willing to "sit up all night" if MPs wanted.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said there was a "compelling case" for military action, but warned Mr Cameron he was risking consensus by failing to provide sufficient "clarity" on his claim that 70,000 moderate rebels could provide ground forces to back up air strikes.

Irish Independent

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