Syria: my dialogue with Nick Clegg

7 Dec

A few days before the December 2 Syria airstrikes vote I wrote to my MP, one Nick Clegg, to ask how he would vote. My email and his office’s reply are reproduced in full below. While I got an answer – redundant, since it came two days after the vote – on the specific question, my bullet pointed concerns were ignored.

FROM: Philip Roddis. TO:  DATE: Sun, Nov 29, 2015 at 2:42 PM. SUBJECT: Air strikes on Syria.

Dear Nick Clegg

A vote on this issue looms closer. How will you, my elected MP, vote? David Cameron’s case, as set out last week, for killing and maiming even more Syrians appears to boil down to this: “It’s not right to leave the job to our friends.” That is truly inadequate, and fails to address the following:

  • Bombing Syria is what Isis want. It advances a key strategy for them of eroding all middle ground.
  • There’s neither a clear objective nor an exit strategy.
  • Innocent Syrians, including children, will be killed in our name.
  • France or the USA, acting alone, have the capacity to lay the whole of Syria to waste. What unique contribution can the RAF make? When bullies lay into a prone victim they don’t like their pals standing back. They want blood on all  hands for reasons that have nothing to do with needing the extra muscle.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely, Philip Roddis

FROM: TO: Philip Roddis. DATE: Fri, Dec 4, 2015 at 2:35 PM. Subject: RE: Air strikes on Syria

Dear Philip,

Thank you for contacting me about the vote in Parliament on the decision to extend UK operations to allow airstrikes on ISIL in Syria.

I share your deep concern about the situation in Syria, which has seen hundreds of thousands of Syrians lose their lives in four and a half years of armed conflict and caused a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions. 

The actions of ISIL in the region have been tragic to witness, with horrific violence being carried out in an unprecedented manner and scale. The Liberal Democrats condemn the barbarism of ISIL in Iraq and Syria and are fully committed to ensuring that the UK does everything we can to aid those affected by ISIL’s horrific actions.

This month, ISIL again launched an attack on France, our closest neighbour and ally in Europe. This followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year in Paris and more recently, the attacks in Tunisia that killed 30 Britons and the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt.

In response to the actions of ISIL, the Government brought a motion before the House of Commons that would extend UK operations to allow airstrikes on ISIL in Syria. Last week, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron wrote to the Prime Minister, outlining five conditions that must be addressed if our party were to support military action in Syria.

Following this letter to the Prime Minister, I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues, across both Houses of Parliament, have been involved in incredibly difficult and lengthy deliberation as to whether to support air strikes.

In my opinion, the five tests have been met as best as they can at this moment. Because of this, I decided to vote with the Government’s motion and to support the extension of UK operations to allow airstrikes.

I am fully aware that many of my constituents and many Liberal Democrats across the country, will find this decision difficult to accept.

As a Liberal Democrat and a committed internationalist, the role of the UN Security Council is something that has contributed greatly to my decision. Unlike the Iraq War in 2003, where it was impossible to secure support for a further UN resolution to legitimise action, the UN Security Council has adopted UN Resolution 2249 with the support of France and without objection from Russia and China.

It is evident to me that by passing this resolution, the UN has not simply supported a passive resolution, but has actively called upon its members “to eradicate the safe haven they [ISIL] have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”. I believe that we must stand with the UN and the international community to do what is right and to eradicate this safe haven that ISIL have within Syria.

It is important to recognise that today’s vote is also part of a wider package of measures to try to bring stability to Syria and an end to the long running civil war.

The Syria peace talks that are ongoing in Vienna are a fundamental part of achieving a strategy to bring peace to Syria. Encouragingly, these talks have seen the organisation of a wider diplomatic framework, which importantly involves both Iran and Russia, alongside a number of other countries. Currently, these talks are proposing a transitional government without Assad to be established in the first six months of 2016, followed by elections within the next 18 months. It is clear that it is through the Vienna process that an end to Assad’s leadership in Syria can be found.

If we are to learn the lessons from the Iraq invasion in 2003, the post-conflict reconstruction of Syria is of fundamental importance. There must not be a power vacuum in Syria as was seen in Iraq. I am pleased therefore to see that the Government have pledged at least £1 billion to go towards the reconstruction of the country and have also ruled out the use of foreign aid funding to support international corporations to replace state institutions.

The Government have also made important commitments to continue the fight against ISIL within Europe and here in the UK. I am pleased to see that the Prime Minister has committed to publish its report into the Muslim Brotherhood in the next two weeks, and has also agreed to commission a wider report into the funding of jihadi groups in the UK. The publishing of these reports have been a direct response to the pressure applied on the Government by the Liberal Democrats and we will continue to campaign on these issues until their release.

Whilst I have supported airstrikes, this does not mean that I am giving unconditional support to the Government. I recognise that more must be done to include the key regional states in the defeating of ISIL. It is here, in the need to press for increased involvement by the Gulf States that I will continue to put pressure on the Government to ensure that this is achieved.

The Liberal Democrats will also continue to try to put pressure on the Government to increase the support they provide to refugees fleeing the region. In the debate, Tim Farron again called on the Government to take in 3000 unaccompanied child refugees and it is vital that the UK take their fair share of children who have landed in Europe alone. Next week, Tim will also be introducing a Bill in Parliament which, if passed, will require the Government to accept this call.

I am clear however, that unless something is done to remove ISIL from Syria, where it is able to coordinate its actions, there is no hope of progress and no home for refugees to go back to.

The Liberal Democrats believe that action, as part of a wider plan against ISIL, is in our national interest and in defence of our allies, France, Iraq and the innocent civilians of Syria. The Liberal Democrats will continue to hold the Government to account and criticise where the Government are going wrong in executing the strategy to deal with ISIL.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Clegg MP

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