David Cameron said that Isis must be “crushed” in Syria as well as Iraq as he reopened the question of whether the UK should launch air strikes against the terrorist group in Syria following the killings of tourists in Tunisia.
British officials insist there are no immediate plans to extend the action taken against Isis in Iraq since last autumn. But Downing Street did not rule out the Syria issue returning to the agenda, saying that Parliament would be told first if any action were proposed.
Mr Cameron’s hint was seen at Westminster as an attempt to flush out Labour’s position. In the last parliament, Labour twice blocked UK military action in Syria. Ed Miliband inflicted a humiliating Commons defeat on Mr Cameron in 2013, when the Prime Minister proposed air strikes against the Assad regime after it was accused of using chemical weapons against its own people. A year later the Prime Minister won the backing of MPs for RAF bombing raids against Isis in Iraq. Although he wanted to extend the action to Syria, he did not propose it because Labour and the Liberal Democrats opposed the idea and raised legal doubts.
Now the domestic political landscape has changed. The Conservatives enjoy an overall majority, Mr Miliband has departed, Labour is in the middle of a leadership election and the Lib Dems have been reduced to a rump of eight MPs.
Lord West of Spithead, a former Head of the Royal Navy and Security Minister in the previous Labour Government, called for the UK to extend its military operations to Syria."When we started our air campaign in Iraq, we said we would not do attacks into Syria unless something specific happened - an atrocity or something," he said. "Those of us in the military pointed out it made no military sense not to do attacks into Syria."
Mr Cameron spoke to Barack Obama by telephone after the US President asked for an opportunity to talk about the atrocity in Tunisia.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “President Obama called the Prime Minister this evening to express his condolences over the loss of British life in Tunisia and said that the United States stood firmly by the UK during this difficult time. The leaders discussed the importance of working together with countries like Tunisia to tackle the threat posed by Islamist extremism.”
On 29 June Theresa May, the Home Secretary, laid flowers on the beach in Sousse where about 30 British holidaymakers lost their lives in Friday’s attack, which she “a despicable act of cruelty.” She was joined by her Tunisian counterpart in a show of solidarity, and they also held talks with interior ministers from France, Germany and Belgium.
Mr Cameron made a Commons statement after MPs held a minute’s silence for the victims of the attack. The nation will hold a minute’s silence at noon on 3 July, a week after the killings.
The Prime Minister told MPs that the terrorist problem must be tackled "at source", saying there were "in part" some military answers. He added: "We do need to crush Isis in Iraq and Syria.”
Insisting that the attack would not change the way Britons lead their lives, Mr Cameron continued: "We must take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds. The people who do these things do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology which hijacks the Islamic faith and holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary.
“We must confront this evil with everything we have. We must be stronger at standing up for our values and we must be more intolerant of intolerance, taking on anyone whose views condone the extremist narrative or create the conditions for it to flourish."
With the Government’s immediate focus on helping the victims and their families, Mr Cameron did not rush out a raft of measures as Tony Blair did after the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London 10 years ago – only for many of the proposals to unravel and be dropped.
However, ministers will highlight a new legal obligation on public authorities, including schools, to prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims, which takes effect on 1 July. The Prime Minister reiterated plans to revive the so-called “snooper’s charter” so that the security services could track online communications by suspected terrorists.
The Prime Minister announced that a major exercise will be carried out in London on 30 June and 1 July to “test and refine” the UK’s readiness for a terrorist attack. It was planned before Friday’s events, after the attack at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January.
Mr Cameron said he wanted the media not to refer to the terrorist group as “Islamic State”, saying it was “neither Islamic or a state.” But he said the BBC was unlikely to adopt Daesh, the Arabic term.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “This threat to our security and to international democratic values is increasing. We need global action to stop Isis grooming terrorists across the world. This should now be put at the top of the agenda for the next G20 meeting in November, and we need more action against extremism through the UN too.”
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