Many residents have written to Mark in recent days about today’s vote on military action in Syria. We are striving to respond to everyone as quickly as possible with the following reply, which sets out Mark’s views:
Dear Fellow Resident,
Thank you for your email regarding the UK’s potential involvement in military action in Syria.
Let me apologise for the delay in responding to some of you and for not personalising this email in the way I would normally do or replying to all the individual points that have been made to me. As you might imagine, this topic is one that elicits strong feelings and I have received hundreds of messages in the past few days alone. I am sorry too that this reply is lengthy, but this is an important issue and I wish to set out the context of the vote and my position on it.
As you will see from the various articles I have written on this subject (links pasted below), when the House was first asked to consider military action against the Assad regime back in August 2013 I was very reluctant to support it. If you recall, the move towards military intervention at that time came on the back of President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. I was deeply fearful that the notion of a swift, surgical strike against the Syrian dictator risked the worst of all worlds – highly unlikely to dislodge him or bring hostilities to a more rapid conclusion, it would simply draw in the UK as an additional player in a complex bun fight of interests underway, without any clear goal or exit strategy.
Sensing disquiet among MPs, the government tabled a watered-down motion that took into account the serious concerns that I and other parliamentary colleagues had expressed and included, absolutely crucially, the assurance that there would be a second vote in parliament before any military action was taken and an emphasis on securing consensus through the UN – two things I had asked for. On that basis, I voted in favour of the motion but told the whips I would not support military action, particularly without a UN resolution. As it happened, the government was not able to get even this initial motion through the Commons.
Two further years have passed and the Syrian conflict rages on, bloodier and more brutal than before and with ever more tragic consequences. President Assad remains in place, while the moderate forces fighting him have been drowned out by the death cult of ISIL which seeks to spread a barbaric way of life that condemns anyone failing to conform to its bizarre ideals on ethnicity, sexuality and religion. Meanwhile, thousands of innocent civilians either have been killed, now live in refugee camps or have tried their luck in building new lives in Europe, creating a crisis of confidence in the European Union as it deals with huge numbers arriving at its door. ISIL-sponsored terrorists have murdered our own citizens in Tunisia and Paris, while the citizens of other nations die every day at their hands.
In short, any notion that inaction comes without its own cost is also misguided. Without a more comprehensive response from the international community, it is quite possible that things will get worse and certainly the terror threat to us here in the UK now exists whether we get further involved in a Syrian solution or not. So the question is, what do we do?
Some people are willing to tolerate the costs of inaction. Others believe that this can be solved through diplomacy alone. Some agree that a military solution is right but that an aerial bombing campaign is not enough. Others prefer to see our allies deal with the problem without our support.
It is clear that diplomatic efforts have failed so far to bring matters to a head, though they have been and continue to be vigorously pursued in Vienna and at the UN in New York. Our own government is the second biggest contributor of aid to the region but that too is not enough. Some European governments have opened the door to limitless numbers of Syrian refugees while we have agreed to take 20 000 of the most vulnerable, yet either approach is a sticking plaster. Our intelligence services are already doing all that they can to prevent attacks and undermine ISIL economically.
Sadly there are no neat, clean solutions to this issue so the Prime Minister is left to consider whether military action should form a greater component of any British response. Today, I stand more convinced of his argument that UK Armed Forces should play a greater role in Syria. First, he has listened to what many of my colleagues and I have been asking for and delivered a United Nations Security Council resolution, embracing both China and Russia, that provides a legal basis and political unity in taking action against ISIL. Second, he accepts that military action is only a component of our response, one part of a multi-dimensional strategy that must include diplomacy, aid and post-conflict planning. I paste below the motion we are considering today, which provides further detail.
Finally, I am convinced that one of the reasons we have failed to make a breakthrough on Syria is the absence of political will among the international community to get involved. It is faintly ludicrous to suggest that the Prime Minister is ‘rushing us to war’. Given the scars left on us all by the Iraq vote in 2003, and the lack of popular support for further British involvement in the Middle East, no government readily contemplates military action in the region. That sentiment has been shared across the Western world. But, as I have said, that inaction, that absence of will to help resolve the Syrian crisis, has left it as a running sore with far-reaching consequences.
One of the reasons I shall be supporting tonight’s motion is not just to give the Prime Minister the green light to further military action (we are already engaged in operations in Iraq) but to display to the Syrians and our allies that the UK stands united with those countries which have the political will to find a lasting and comprehensive solution to this terrible humanitarian tragedy. It is worth noting that yesterday the German cabinet backed the use of their Armed Forces in the fight against ISIL. What military action will also assist with is altering the current balance of power on the ground such that we have a greater chance of being able to work out a political settlement that does not involve ISIL, and may help build an understanding among the international coalition that President Assad’s rule must before long also come to a close.
Taking military action is not without risk, but neither is doing nothing. Whilst scepticism over our long-term strategy is understandable in light of conflicts like Iraq, United Nations involvement in this particular instance means that whatever we do, is done multilaterally as part of an international coalition.
It may also be worth mentioning that the authority to put our Armed Forces into action is in truth constitutionally an Executive power. I am unconvinced that the precedent set in 2003 by Tony Blair in putting these matters before the legislature in the House of Commons is one that we should continue as it undermines our ability to respond nimbly and effectively to threats.
I appreciate that my answer will be one that disappoints a number of my constituents who have written to me but this is not a decision I have taken lightly.
Thank you once again for taking the time to write to me and share your views on this incredibly important issue.
Rt Hon Mark Field MP
Cities of London & Westminster
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
020 7 219 8155
Twitter – @MarkFieldMP
“That this House notes that ISIL poses a direct threat to the United Kingdom; welcomes United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 which determines that ISIL constitutes an ‘unprecedented threat to international peace and security’ and calls on states to take ‘all necessary measures’ to prevent terrorist acts by ISIL and to ‘eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria’; further notes the clear legal basis to defend the UK and our allies in accordance with the UN Charter; notes that military action against ISIL is only one component of a broader strategy to bring peace and stability to Syria; welcomes the renewed impetus behind the Vienna talks on a ceasefire and political settlement; welcomes the Government’s continuing commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees; underlines the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction in Syria; welcomes the Government’s continued determination to cut ISIL’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons; notes the requests from France, the US and regional allies for UK military assistance; acknowledges the importance of seeking to avoid civilian casualties, using the UK’s particular capabilities; notes the Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; welcomes the Government’s commitment to provide quarterly progress reports to the House; and accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government in taking military action, specifically airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria; and offers its wholehearted support to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces .”