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Debate on Syria

30th August 2013

Jonathan Djanogly the Member of Parliament for the Huntingdon constituency attended a packed House of Commons, recalled on 29 August, to discuss the UK’s response to chemical weapons being used in Syria.

In the event the Government decided to ask the Commons for consent to take military action only after a further vote to be held in the future.

Mr. Djanogly said:

“Before the summer recess, I spoke in a debate against arming the Syrian rebels. I was concerned that we should not find ourselves supporting Al-Qaeda or assisting a Shia/Sunni cross-border conflict. I was also worried that our intervention could support a proxy war between Russia/Iran and the West.

Things have clearly moved on since July and there is no longer Government talk of wider military intervention, nor the use of troops and nor our arming the rebels or of helping regime change. In this debate the Prime Minister made it very clear that this is only about dealing with the unacceptable use of chemical weapons and not about our entry into another Middle East war.

It has been proved that chemical weapons have been used against civilians. It does also seem, but has not yet been verified, that it was Assad’s forces that fired the chemical weapons. The question is whether, in the circumstances, some kind of military response is correct and whether the UK should be part of that response. No UN mandate for action has been achieved, given Chinese and Russian support for the Assad regime. Yet the Attorney General has opined that the principle of humanitarian intervention to deal with crimes against humanity is sound legally.

The key contention by the Prime Minister is that we may need to take military action to deter future use of these weapons and that inaction could make further such attacks much more likely.

My main concern remains that we have yet to define what we wish to do militarily and how we intend to go about it. President Obama has spoken of: “firing a shot across the bows” of Assad. What does that mean? Fire rockets but hit nothing at all. This sounds like tokenism rather than a strategic objective.

There are significant numbers of chemical weapons stockpiled in Syria. Do we just attack some of them? Would such tokenism stop Assad or alternatively encourage retaliation against Western targets, or increase Russian armament provision to the regime. How could we maintain that we are not militarily helping the rebels after such a strike and could we then be pulled further into the fighting?

We should continue with sanctions, get diplomatically tougher with Russia and China and make it clear that firing chemical weapons will result in war crime trials. I am outraged by the use of chemical weapons: but outrage is not a strategy. I will wish to see a strategy before I cast any future vote in favour of military action.

However, given the defeat of the Government motion, it now looks likely that there will be no further vote or military involvement.”


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