I have been contacted by many people about the Government’s proposed actions against Daesh.
I saw the Government’s motion yesterday and I am aware that the Labour Party has an un-whipped ‘free vote’ on this issue when MPs vote this evening.
I have now made my mind up having listened to the start of the debate today. I still aim to try and speak in the debate but wanted you, as a constituent, to know how I had reached my conclusion.
If I get to speak I aim to say the following today:
“I rise with a heavy heart to contribute to this debate. This is an incredibly difficult decision, agonised by Members of all Parties who have reached their conclusions with significant deliberation.
I believe the Government handling of the crisis that is Daesh has been weak. Insufficient detail has been provided on the specifics of what actions the Government plans to ask our armed forces to undertake – or the outcomes those activities are meant to achieve.
I believe Members of the Commons and people across the country deserve more information on:
- the military and financial targets that UK forces will be tasked with destroying;
- what the UK would do to rebuild a country ravaged by years of civil war;
- how the aid budget will be bolstered to support this increased activity;
- what more the UK will do to help refugees. The Government response on refugees so far has been pathetic and has come under massive criticism across Bermondsey and Old Southwark; and
- how the UK is seeking a political settlement longer term. Action against Daesh does not solve what we do about Assad and the civil war. That alone is not a reason not to attack Daesh: our own security may require that, as well as working on how we protect Syrian civilians there, reduce the flow of refugees and work with others to remove Assad through a political process.
However, we only have one, limited Government option before us today. If the option is this one, limited proposal or doing nothing to help those at risk of attack by Daesh, then I fundamentally do not accept that people in the areas controlled by Daesh, or my constituents, wider London or the UK are safer by doing nothing.
I also wanted to highlight the issue of fear today. We cannot live in fear of action. The UK is already a target for Daesh whether we intervene now or not.
There is no less risk through UK involvement now. But fear and risks are exacerbated by doing nothing. Doing nothing means Daesh continues to:
- train and equipment more terrorists to attack from Daesh areas or beyond, and including in the UK;
- raise money from the areas controlled; funds then used by Daesh to attack in other countries and buy more military equipment;
- radicalise from what was Syria.
These Daesh activities are already aimed at us in the UK. Counter-terrorism officers make an arrest every two days based on intelligence against suspected attackers in the UK. Half of those arrests are here in London. An arrest every other day of people being radicalised by Daesh whilst we fail to act.
There is also a very real risk that by advocating abstinence, we send a message to potential recruits and those being radicalised in the UK and beyond. A message that travelling to what used to be Syrian controlled territories may go unpunished by the UK. Instead our message must be simple: if you go, you risk your own death and not those of innocent civilians. Our message must be that the young men and women being radicalised should choose to stay and live in the UK and reject the abhorrence that is Daesh.
This is why the Government commitment to increase resources for security services in the UK is welcome, albeit at the apparent loss of some frontline officers, including PCSOs, who make a contribution in the battle against potential terrorists. Investing to prevent radicalisation is part of the battle we must undertake. But it will not work on its own, and is thoroughly undermined if we send a message that travelling abroad to kill in the name of a fascist ideology will go unchecked or unpunished.
I also think it is important that we send as united a message as possible to the RAF pilots who appear to be about to be asked to undertake dangerous operations in the interests of UK civilians and beyond. If tasked, they must have our support. I hope we never again see a situation where troops on the ground or in the air serving our country are told by MPs in the Commons that their actions are illegal.
Coming back to the issue of fear, I think we must have the courage to do what we think is right, irrespective of the inevitable backlash. I have faced physical threats over how I might vote on this issue. Those threats are unacceptable and do not shape my position or decision. Quite the opposite.
Those threats have been exacerbated by a faux divide between my Party and my leader. That divide has been settled: this is a free vote and I thank Jeremy Corbyn for sticking to his values and principles in ensuring we all vote on our own conscience.
I believe that there is also a fear of the past that has crept into today’s debate. Mistakes made post-military action in Iraq cast a long shadow on many Members of Parliament but especially over the Labour Party. But we must not live in fear of the past. Nor do two wrongs make a right. Past failure to plan cannot excuse inaction now – inaction that leaves women raped, older women massacred, gay men thrown off buildings and humans caged and burnt or drowned in the name of a fascist ideology.
The Labour Party is the Party of internationalism. We helped establish the UN. France is calling for our support. The UN has unanimously backed – and required – action. And Labour's national party conference provided a mandate to act with that UN endorsement.
I refuse to be the kind of person that walks on by. Nor do I accept that is the view or will of the British public. I will today be supporting the Government motion and hope more detail will be provided soon.
I have taken many soundings and received many emails on the issue and I know my final decision will upset some constituents and even some of my local Party members. But their safety and security are of paramount importance to me – as is tackling the atrocities being committed by Daesh.
This has been a very tough decision to reach and I am glad many members and constituents have also said they will respect my conclusion. Whilst it makes me upset to conclude military action is required, I also believe it would be immoral to choose doing nothing over voting to support limited UK military involvement at this stage."