Hilary Benn argued against bombing Syria in an interview two weeks before voting for it

The shadow foreign secretary appeared to change his mind

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Indy Politics

An article published on 15 November in which Hilary Benn said he did not advocate bombing Isis in Syria has been shared widely on social media in the aftermath yesterday's Syria debate in Parliament.

The interview saw renewed interest after the shadow Foreign Secretary gave a widely praised speech on the evening of Wednesday in which he advocated bombing Syria.

In the previous interview, given to the Independent on Sunday, Mr Benn had said the Paris attacks the previous Friday meant it was “even more important that we bring the Syrian civil war to an end” before considering strikes on Isis.

“Why? Because the vacuum in which Isil/Daesh [Islamic State] in Syria thrives is a consequence of that civil war,” he said at the time.

“Therefore I hope that the talks that are taking place really will redouble their efforts to say, look we’ve got a find a way of bringing this to a conclusion – we’ve got to bring this to an end.

“Because then people can then really focus their efforts on the threat from Isil/Daesh and the circumstances in Syria will have changed.”

Mr Benn was asked whether the Government should bring forward a vote on bombing Isis in Syria, which was at that time not planned. He replied:

“No. They have to come up with an overall plan, which they have not done. I think the focus for now is finding a peaceful solution to the civil war.

Hilary Benn receives standing ovation

“The most useful contribution we can make is to support as a nation the peace talks that have started. That is the single most important thing we can do.”  

The comments, were made prior to a shadow cabinet meeting in which Labour MPs were given a free vote, and prior to a UN resolution on 20 November calling for states to take action on Isis.

Though lack of United Nations approval at the time was not the main argument that Mr Benn made against bombing Isis in Syria, he did say Labour would only support an extension of air strikes if it had been granted.

 The comments contrast with the view stated by Mr Benn in his speech two weeks later. In that speech he urged Labour MPs to vote for bombing, arguing that his party had been “defined by internationalism”.

"We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road,” he said.

"We are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all of the people that we represent.

"They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt.

"They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt.

“And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated…we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria and that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion tonight.”

66 Labour MPs ultimately voted with Mr Benn to authorise an extension of bombing to Syria. The majority of Labour MPs and a majority of the shadow cabinet voted with party leader Jeremy Corbyn in opposition to bombing.