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.
In pictures: Syria air strikes (2014)
In pictures: Syria air strikes (2014)
Syrian citizens check a damaged house that targeted by the coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Isis group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib
A Syrian boy (L) looking at a destroyed car that activists say was targeted by the coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Islamic State group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib
Parts of a missile that activists say was fired by coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Isis group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib
Tthe guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launching Tomahawk cruise missiles against Isis targets
The USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launches a Tomahawk cruise missiles in the Red Sea, to conduct strike missions against Isis group targets in Syria
The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launching a Tomahawk cruise missile against Isis targets in Syria, as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in the Arabian Gulf
US navy sailors standing watch on the bridge while Tomahawk cruise missiles are launched against Isis targets in Syria, aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), in the Arabian Gulf
The US-led airstrikes in Syria against Isis targets in and around the city of Raqqa
A fighter from the Isis group holds a piece of what the IS is saying is a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis organisation pray at the spot where the jihadist group said a US drone crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis group load a van with parts that they said was a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in the Syrian city of Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis group load a van with parts that they said was a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in Raqqa
Fighters from the Isis group gesture as they load a van with parts that they said was a US drone that crashed into a communications tower in Raqqa. A US-led coalition on carried out its first air strikes and missile attacks against jihadist positions in Syria, with Damascus saying it had been informed by Washington before the operation began
A Syrian man rides his bike past a communications tower that was destroyed after a US drone crashed into it, according to fighters with the Isis group, in the Syrian city of Raqqa
People inspect a shop damaged after what Isis militants say was a U.S. drone crashed into a communication station nearby in Raqqa
A man holds the remains of what Isis militants say was a U.S. drone which crashed in Raqqa
Resident gather in the back of a van the remains of what Isis militants say was a drone which crashed in Raqqa
A man inspects the remains of what Isismilitants say was a U.S. drone which crashed into a communication tower in Raqqa
A man inspects the remains of what Isis militants say was a U.S. drone which crashed in Raqqa
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.”
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?”
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.
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.