Labour MPs will get a free vote on whether the UK should launch air strikes in Syria

Labour members 'overwhelmingly opposed' to bombing Syria ahead of shadow cabinet decision

Jon Stone
Monday 30 November 2015 15:08
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to the bombing
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to the bombing

Labour will offer its MPs a free vote on whether Britain should start bombing Isis in Syria, it is understoof.

The decision, reported by the Press Association news agency, came at a shadow cabinet meeting to decide the party's stance on extending military operations against Isis to the country.

While the party's leader and most of its members are against bombing, some MPs in the Parliament party want to support David Cameron's call for more bombing.

Jeremy Corbyn has also written to the Prime Minister to ask for a two-day debate on the issue so that "important contributions" were not cut short.

Mr Corbyn is opposed to bombing Isis in Syria because he believes that it could make the situation worse if indiscriminate or accidental civilian deaths strengthen support for Isis.

The Government however says the UK should not “outsource” security to allies like the US and France, who are already bombing the country.

Some Labour MPs back strikes. A series of public opinion polls show that more of the public support strikes than oppose them, though Labour members are opposed.

Labour’s position on the issue is crucial because the Government may struggle to gain a majority in Parliament to authorise strikes on account of a bloc of Tory MPs being opposed to action.

The decision makes it more likely that the Goverment will bring forward a vote on the issue; with the support of some Labour MPs it is more likely that Mr Cameron will have enough MPs to launch the attacks.

However, whatever the UK ultimately does, strikes by France and the US are already on-going and will continue.

Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary and close ally of Mr Corbyn, told the Today programme this morning that such a free vote on the issue would amount to a victory for David Cameron.

“I think public opinion is moving towards us in opposing the rush to war, that’s why so many right-wing newspapers and commentators are opposed to the Syrian airstrikes,” she said.

“The problem about a free vote is that it hands victory to Cameron over these airstrikes, it hands victory to him on a plate. I don’t think that’s what party members want to see. I think it’s a matter for the leader, in consultation and in particular in consultation with the chief whip.”

Another close all of Mr Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, however backed a free vote.

Mr Corbyn, a serial rebel before becoming leader, has in the past backed free votes on military action.

A number of Labour MPs had said they would vote against any whip on the issue. Hove MP Peter Kyle yesterday told the Westminster Hour programme that he had made up his mind and that “the whip is irrelevant to me now”.

Under Ed Miliband Labour MPs were asked to vote against intervention against the Assad regime; the party’s entire front bench did so. This vote is about whether to bomb Isis, which the UK is already bombing in Iraq.

Some Labour frontbenchers have hinted that they might have resigned if they were not given a free vote, with Lord Falconer saying he hoped resignations could be avoided.

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