Syria: Unionists to back air strikes against ISIS

The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster

The eight DUP MPs and two Ulster Unionist Party MPs will today vote in favour of bombing ISIS positions within Syria from the air, the parties last night confirmed.

The two main unionist parties have over recent days heavily indicated that they were leaning towards supporting the Prime Minister on the issue but said that they wanted to see the precise question which is put to the Commons.

Last night, as the motion which today will be debated in a day-long sitting was published, both parties confirmed their support for military 
action. The UUP had no representation in the last Parliament but five of the DUP’s MPs voted against military action when it last came before the Commons.

By contrast, the SDLP’s three MPs are in line to vote against the proposal to involve the RAF in the Syrian conflict.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said last night: “We needed to know that the vile terrorists of ISIL/Daesh would be the target.

“We had to be sure that they are a clear and present danger to the UK.

“We needed to be convinced that British action would make a real and practical difference. And we required a definite strategic framework being in place, including a clear exit strategy for British personnel.

“After repeated briefings from the National Security Council on Privy Council Terms, and much discussion with the Prime Minister and others in government, we have concluded that the time is right for us to act, and to act decisively.”

He added: “Unlike the failed strategy advocated in 2013, which we opposed, there is now a realistic chance that overwhelming pressure can be brought to bear against Daesh....the moment has come where we can no longer stand by on the other side. Civilians are dying, being raped or enslaved at the hands of ISIL/Daesh every day.

“These are the civilian casualties already happening and we must not through inaction prolong their suffering.”

David Cameron yesterday urged MPs from all parties to unite behind British air strikes against the Islamic State terror group in Syria.

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

Jeremy Corbyn’s decision on Monday 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 others 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 that 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 Jeremy 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 on Wednesday 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 IS in Iraq and the two and a half before the Falklands War.

The vote is expected around 10pm on Wednesday, 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.

The Labour leader - who will open for Labour on Wednesday with a plea to avoid war, while shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn wraps up the debate arguing the opposite - told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show: “We are going to kill people in their homes by our bombs.”