Friday 23 March 2018

UK parliament unites in praise as Benn demands that 'evil' is confronted

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his north London home yesterday as RAF jets carried out the first British bombing runs over Syria.
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his north London home yesterday as RAF jets carried out the first British bombing runs over Syria.

Andrew Grice

Hilary Benn, the British shadow foreign secretary, won praise on both sides of the House of Commons for a speech that provoked extraordinary scenes.

MPs broke with convention by bursting into applause after Mr Benn branded Isil "fascists" as he made a passionate speech calling for Labour to support military action.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who had earlier spoken against bombing from the same Despatch Box, sat stony-faced next to Mr Benn as their unprecedented frontbench split was played out on the floor of the Commons on Wednesday evening.

Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, told Mr Benn: "That will go down as one of the truly great speeches made in this House of Commons."

Directing his closing remarks to Labour MPs, Mr Benn said: "We have always been defined by our internationalism. We never have and never will walk by on the other side of the road."

Declaring that Isil held British democracy and values in contempt, he said: "What we know about fascists is that they have to be defeated ... My view is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit for Syria."

He said: "I believe we have a moral and practical duty to extend the action we are already taking in Iraq to Syria."

Mr Benn, tipped as a possible successor to Mr Corbyn, had led a shadow cabinet rebellion against the Labour leader that forced him to concede a free vote for his MPs.

However, Mr Benn insisted Mr Corbyn was "an honest, a principled, a decent and a good man" and not a "terrorist sympathiser" as PM David Cameron had suggested on the eve of the debate when he urged Conservative MPs not to join the Labour leader in the division lobby.

But Mr Cameron refused to apologise for his remarks. He told the Commons: "This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism, it's about how best we do that."

"I respect people have come to a different view from the government than the one I will set out today... There's honour in voting for, there's honour in voting against."

But he stopped short of issuing the apology his critics sought as the controversy hindered his attempt to unite MPs behind military action.

Mr Cameron was repeatedly challenged to justify his claim that 70,000 non-extremist Syrian ground troops could take on Isil. He said the figure did not include a further 25,000 extremist fighters.

But he admitted the moderate fighters were not all "ideal partners," that there were not enough ground troops and they were not all in the right place.

The prime minister argued: "The question is this: do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat? And do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands from where they are plotting to kill British people or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?"

Replying, Mr Corbyn said: "The prime minister's approach is bomb first, talk later. But instead of adding British bombs to the others now raining down on Syria, what's needed is an acceleration of the peace talks [on Syria] in Vienna."

He argued that Mr Cameron's claim about 70,000 moderate ground forces "has not remotely stood up to scrutiny". (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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