Tunisia attack: Parliament could authorise air strikes against Isis targets in Syria in response to massacre

MPs may vote on Syria strikes on Isis if a Tunisia link is established

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Indy Politics

Parliament could be asked to authorise British air strikes against Isis positions in Syria within months, it has emerged, as part of the UK’s response to the attack on holiday-makers in Tunisia. The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said MPs would need to think “very carefully” about how to tackle an “evil caliphate” that did not respect national borders.

Government sources suggested that David Cameron is now considering asking Parliament to authorise RAF air strikes in Syria – and that although a decision may not be taken until after the summer recess, this could be brought forward if any evidence emerged of direct Isis involvement in the Tunisian attack. Downing Street reiterated that Mr Cameron was considering a “full spectrum” of options to tackle Isis.

The development came as the first eight British victims of the Tunisian attack arrived back in the UK. The bodies of Stephen Mellor, Adrian Evans, Patrick Evans, Joel Richards, Carly Lovett, John Stollery, and Denis and Elaine Thwaites were the first of the 29 confirmed British dead to be repatriated following the attack at the beach resort of Sousse on 26 June.

There were also reports that a family of 12 from Luton – including three young children and a “frail” 75-year-old man and his wife who has cancer – had secretly travelled to Syria after disappearing during a holiday in Bangladesh. A community leader in Luton said there were suggestions that at least one member of the family had been “radicalised”. The party initially travelled to Bangladesh from Heathrow via Istanbul on 10 April, before flying back to the Turkish city on 11 May. They were due to come back to London three days later.

A police spokeswoman said: “There is a suggestion that the family may have gone to Syria; however, police have so far been unable to corroborate that information.”

The flight of several British Muslim families and friends to join the jihadists fighting in Syria has led to calls for action in recent months, but the Tunisia attacks may yet prove to be the tipping point if any Isis involvement is established.

 

Previously Mr Cameron has shied away from going to Parliament for authorisation for air strikes against Isis positions in Syria after the Government lost a vote in 2013 on military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

While MPs backed air strikes against Isis targets in Iraq last year the Government did not propose bombing Syria after Labour and Liberal Democrats raised objections.

But speaking to the BBC, Mr Fallon suggested it might be time to change the policy. “It is a new Parliament and I think Members of Parliament will want to think very carefully about how we best deal with Isil and the illogicality of Isil not respecting the borders,” he said.

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“They don’t differentiate between Syria and Iraq: they are establishing this evil caliphate across both countries.” He added that if the Tunisia attacks are linked back to Syria the UK would have to “reflect” on how it responds.

Asked about the Defence Secretary’s comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman did not dampen down the suggestion that joining the US in air strikes against Isis positions in Syria was now being considered.

“The Prime Minister has been clear on the need for us to be crushing Isil in both Iraq and Syria,” she said. “In terms of having a ‘full-spectrum’ response, that clearly means not just focusing on one area where they are, but looking at a whole range of areas.”

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Masked Isis fighters march through the Syrian city of Raqqa (AP)

The spokeswoman said that “a lot has happened” since the chemical weapon attack by President Assad which sparked the previous proposal for air strikes. “Most recently 22 and likely more British citizens have been killed in a terrorist attack [and] the investigation so far suggests there are links to Isil.”

Labour said it would need to “look very carefully at the detail of any proposal” before deciding to whether to support air strikes, and called for the Government to bring forward specific plans before Parliament.“Ministers are clearly trying to roll the pitch in favour of air strikes but we won’t be making any decisions until there is a proposal on the table,” said a source.

It is understood Mr Cameron would prefer a new Labour leader to be in place before bringing a proposal to the Commons, although this could change if any Syrian link is found to the Tunisian attack.

Thirty of the 38 victims are believed to be British and the repatriation of the bodies is expected to take several days, with a joint inquest to follow. The latest two victims confirmed were named as Christopher and Sharon Bell from Killingbeck, Leeds.

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The coffin of Adrian Evans, one of the 27 British nationals killed in the Tunisia terror attack, is carried off a plane at RAF Brize Norton near Oxford on Wednesday (PA)

As the RAF flight from Tunis landed, a statement was released on behalf of Suzanne Richards for the Evans and Richards families which said: “We are a very small and normal family, but nothing will ever be normal again.

“My son Joel, dad Pat and brother Adrian were our rocks and we are all heartbroken and devastated and will never get over losing them.”

Joel’s 16-year-old brother Owen survived the attack. Ms Richards said the holiday was intended to be a celebration and had only just begun. “The ‘jolly boys’ outing’ as they called it was to celebrate Joel finishing his second year at university with high grades and Owen finishing his GCSEs,” she said.

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