UK: MPs criticise Syria strikes plans, government denies climbdown

UK: MPs criticise Syria strikes plans, government denies climbdown
4 min read
03 November, 2015
The British government Tuesday denied it was abandoning plans for a parliamentary vote to join airstrikes in Syria as an influential committee of MPs advised against action
Britain's role in the Iraq war has left many wary of British intervention overseas [AFP]

An MPs' panel has said Britain should not carry out airstrikes in Syria without a clear strategy to defeat the jihadist Islamic State group [IS, formerly ISIS] and bring peace to the country.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee - a cross-party MPs' body which scrutinises Britain's foreign policy - said in a new report that Cameron's focus on joining airstrikes was "incoherent" and "a distraction".

"We are concerned that the government is focusing on extending airstrikes to Syria... without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating ISIS and ending the civil war," said committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a senior MP from Cameron's Conservative Party.


"There is now a miscellany of uncoordinated military engagements by an alarming range of international actors in Iraq and Syria.

"These forces desperately need coordinating into a coherent strategy and that is where our efforts should be focused."

Blunt urged the government to concentrate on supporting international diplomacy to end the conflict - which has killed more than 250,000 people - following last week's talks in Vienna attended by 17 countries.

'Strikes still on the cards'

Newspaper reports suggested Tuesday Prime Minister David Cameron had abandoned plans to seek parliamentary approval to extend missions against IS from Iraq into neighbouring Syria, in the wake of Russia's entry into the war by bombing to support the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, Cameron's office said his position had not changed but said the premier would not seek a vote without broad support across the House of Commons.

"He's consistently said that we would only go back to the House on this issue if there was clear consensus," a Downing Street source said.

"Meanwhile, the government continues to work to bring the conflict to an end in Syria and we are working closely with our allies to inject greater momentum into efforts to find a political solution."

But according to The Guardian and The Times, Cameron assessed that airstrikes would not now have the support of enough MPs to pass, given the Conservatives' slim majority of 12 in the House of Commons.

The Times, citing government ministry sources, said the vote, widely expected before the end of the year, would not now go ahead.

The Guardian said Cameron thought he had not won over enough opposition MPs to compensate for Conservative rebels and acknowledged that Russia's intervention had complicated the picture.

Iraq, Syria 'single theatre'

The government has argued that it is illogical to conduct airstrikes in Iraq and not neighbouring Syria, saying the two countries are "a single theatre of conflict".

In his response to the report, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said ministers would use "every tool available" to save lives in the region.

"Airstrikes against ISIS are not the sole solution but military action, in coordination with our coalition allies, is having a substantial impact in degrading ISIS in Iraq," he added.

"It is right that we continue to use military force against ISIS while we use diplomatic power to work towards a political solution in the Syrian war."

Cameron's previous government, a coalition, was badly bruised by a Commons defeat over a plan to launch airstrikes in Syria in 2013.

Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the main opposition Labour Party, is a leading anti-war campaigner who is opposed to extending airstrikes, although some Labour MPs support the move.

Labour said it will consult the Stop the War Coalition before it decides whether or not to support any expansion of airstrikes against IS from Iraq into Syria.

Speaking at a meeting in Westminster on Monday evening, shadow foreign minister Catherine West told the Stop the War Coalition she believed the prospect of the prime minister holding a vote was now "remote".

For action in Iraq, Britain is currently part of a coalition of more than 60 countries and has eight Tornado jets flying missions plus an unconfirmed number of Reaper drones.

This was approved by
parliament in September last year.

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