I have taken this matter very seriously indeed, and did not commit myself one way or the other until I had looked into the matter very closely, and spoke to many people. As part of this process, I held private meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary and questioned them very closely. I also attended meetings with the Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, International Development Secretary and Deputy Joint Chief of Armed Forces, as well as consulting a number of ex-service personnel and very many constituents.
While there are controversies surrounding, for example, the ground forces based in Syria and the way in which Syria could be rebuilt, the telling factor for me was the importance of presenting a united front against terrorists and terrorism. I play a very active role in Northern Ireland, and it is the case that terrorism there only started to be defeated when a solid, united front was set against those perpetrating the violence.
It would have been surprising for us to have refused to allow RAF air strikes against terrorist targets when strikes are already being made by the United States and France, when the German cabinet approves of Germany’s playing a role and when Russia, when referring to the strikes we made this morning, said that any strikes against the terrorist groups are to be welcomed. It also makes no sense to attack terrorist bases in Iraq, but not just a few miles away in Syria.
It would also have been wrong to leave the work of destroying the terrorist units to our allies, when we have specialist high precision equipment which can target important terrorist infrastructure, thereby – hopefully – avoiding civilian casualties. Though this cannot be guaranteed, I have stressed to the Prime Minister how important it is that we do avoid civilian casualties, and he does, of course, agree.
Some people have said that we shouldn’t attack “Syria” but that is not we is happening – we are attacking terrorist bases in Syria, not Syria itself, just as we doing in Iraq. Some people also don’t want to see us engage in “another war”. Neither do I, but we are not doing that, although we are carrying on a war, as it might be called, against terrorism, as we have been doing for a long time and as we will continue to do, whether we strike at Syrian bases or not. Additionally, many constituents writing to me have also been concerned at the prospect of ground troops being deployed to Syria. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that we are not proposing to put western troops on the ground and I agree with this decision.
Some people are understandably concerned that our actions might provoke attacks on the UK. Attacks, however, have already been made on the UK and seven potential attacks have been prevented recently. We are, then, already a target because these terrorists want to attack our way of life, our standards and our beliefs. These attacks won’t change that, but what they might do is reduce the capacity of these terrorist to mount any such attacks, by, for example, taking out their oil supplies, communications networks and other facilities.
It is not the case, though, that we are tackling this problem through air strikes alone. There are discussions taking place at Vienna on how we might best move Syria from being a war zone towards becoming a better, more responsible country and there are signs that the US and Russian Presidents are moving closer together on this issue.
I do acknowledge that many representations have been made to me not to vote for this action, and as I have said, I came to this decision with great difficulty having thought carefully about the concerns constituents have expressed. I acted on these concerns through seeking as much information as possible surrounding these concerns through the meetings I have mentioned. It is only through this process that I came to a decision on the issue and I do hope that what I have outlined will assure you that I voted with great care and caution.