Bombing Isis in Syria would 'make no practical difference', David Cameron warned

Senior MPs have lined up to criticise proposals to extend military action into Syria

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Sending British warplanes to bomb Isis would make “no practical difference” in efforts to defeat the terrorist group, David Cameron has been warned, as senior MPs lined up to criticise proposals to extend military action into Syria.

While Labour said that it would look “very seriously” at any plan put forward by the Government to use British military assets against Isis in Syria, the SNP made clear that it expected to oppose the move.

Senior Conservatives, including Crispin Blunt, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, also expressed scepticism over possible air strikes, which were first muted by the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon on 1 July.

Downing Street has indicated that it is considering calling for a vote on military action in Syria after the summer recess but will only proceed if it has the backing of Labour. Mr Cameron is understood to want to wait until the party has a new leader in place before calling any vote to ensure cross-party consensus on the issue and “bind” the Opposition to the policy.

 

However, he is likely to face opposition from his own ranks to any attempt to broaden military action.

Mr Blunt suggested air strikes were an irrelevance. “If the Government’s going to invite Parliament to take a view, it will have to, but what is frustrating about this, is it’s not going to make any difference on the outcome,” he said. “And actually what is needed here is actually more diplomatic activity in order to get the regional powers to sit down in a room together and agree a strategy.”

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In the House of Commons, the defence committee chairman Julian Lewis said there were “no good outcomes to be had whatever course of action we take... In 2013, the Government wanted to remove [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad without helping al-Qaeda or similar groups that later became Daesh. Now we apparently want to remove Daesh but without helping Assad. These two things are incompatible. It is a choice of evils.”

The MP John Redwood urged the Government to use diplomacy to find a solution. “If we have a Daesh terrorist plotting murders in the UK, we arrest them and we prosecute them and we put them in prison. If that same terrorist goes to Iraq we then try to hunt them down and kill them and blow up the building they are living in. How does that help create a rule of law or democratic pressures in Iraq?”

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Smoke rises following an air strike by the US-led coalition in Kobani, last October (Getty)

The SNP MP Alex Salmond suggested that it would be hard to justify intervention in Syria on legal grounds and suggested the SNP would vote against any motion to extend bombing beyond Libya.

“In each stage of military intervention we were assured and told and it was argued this next intervention was the absolute key or at least would progress the objectives of this country,” he said.

“It has to be said on every occasion, exactly the reverse has come about. [We should] reflect on the wisdom of what we are doing before we embark on another adventure of military intervention without at least a specific line of causality between the latest atrocity carried out against United Kingdom citizens and how that military intervention would affect it.”

Mr Fallon confirmed the Government would come to the Commons for approval before conducting air strikes. Quoting Mr Cameron, who said in September that there was a “strong case” for Britain to do more in Syria, the Defence Secretary said: “The Prime Minister recognised then the reservations that some members of this House had and we will not bring a motion to this House on which there is not some consensus.

“This is of course though a new Parliament and it is for all members to consider how best to tackle [Isis], an evil caliphate that doesn’t respect state boundaries. Our position therefore remains that we would return to this House for approval before conducting air strikes in Syria. The exception, as the House knows, is if there was a critical British national interest at stake or the need to act to prevent humanitarian catastrophe.

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David Cameron greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi on Thursday, ahead of talks at 10 Downing Street (PA)

Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, suggested her party might be open to supporting air strikes in the wake of the Tunisia attacks which it opposed last year. “Everything that can be done to stop them must be done.”

Where they stand on military action

Conservatives David Cameron favours extending British military action to Syria but faces opposition from a small but vocal minority of his backbenchers. He would be unlikely to call a vote in the House of Commons on the issue unless he could be assured of Labour support.

Labour The party gave its clearest indication yet that it would support military action when acting leader Harriet Harman said: “Everything that can be done to stop Isis must be done.” But the policy will ultimately be decided by whoever is elected the party’s next leader in the autumn.

SNP The SNP look likely to oppose any plans to extend air strikes to Syria. Alex Salmond told the House of Commons that Britain needed to learn lessons from previous interventions that had had the “reverse effects” of their objectives.

Liberal Democrats The Lib Dems in Government opposed extending air strikes into Syria. The party is yet to take a position on the new initiative but  would probably vote against the move.

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