26 Sep 2014

MPs approve air strikes against IS in Iraq – is Syria next?

The Commons votes to join air strikes in Iraq against the Islamic State group. Is the UK now locked on course for conflict in Syria, too, and backlash on British streets?

With the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats united on the need to take military action in Iraq, MPs voted by 524 to 43 in favour, a majority of 481.

The debate prompted Bethanl Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali to resign from Labour’s frontbench because she was unwilling to vote for the government’s motion.

Ms Ali, who abstained, said she was not convinced there was a long-term strategy in place to “build up the capacity of the Iraqi army”, and was worried that military action could increase Muslim radicalisation in Britain.


Setting out the reasons why he believed Britain should contribute to the US-led air campaign against IS in Iraq, the prime minister said it had “already murdered one British hostage and is threatening the lives of two more”.

It was Britain’s duty to take part because “this international operation is about protecting our people too, and protecting the streets of Britain should not be a task that we are prepared to entirely subcontract to other air forces of other countries”.

Labour leader Ed Miliband told the Commons Britain “cannot simply stand by against the threat of Isil”.

‘Heightened responsibility’

Mr Miliband said Britain had a “heightened responsibility” to take part because of its role in the 2003 invasion, adding: “I support this motion today because we are responding to the request from the democratic Iraqi state and this is recognised in the UN charter.”

He agreed with Mr Cameron that IS was a threat to Britain, saying: “A dismembered Iraq would be more dangerous for Britain in my view, not less dangerous.”

Mr Cameron said there was also “a strong case for us to do more in Syria”, but added that this would need separate parliamentary approval.

He said military action in Iraq would be part of a “clear, comprehensive plan” to defeat IS, including “tough, uncompromising” measures in Britain to prevent attacks.

‘Counsel of despair’

“Of course, some will say that any action you take will further radicalise young people,” Mr Cameron said. “I have to say this is a counsel of despair. The threat of radicalisation is already here. Young people have left our country to go and fight with these extremists.”

British involvement was requested by the Iraqi government, which the British government says “provides a clear and unequivocal legal basis for the deployment of UK forces and military assets to take military action to strike Isil sites and military strongholds in Iraq”.

The government motion stated that British troops would not be deployed in ground operations against IS. It did not endorse air strikes in Syria as part of the campaign and made clear that any proposal to do so would require a further parliamentary vote.

Mr Cameron decided to restrict Britain’s involvement to Iraq to win the support of Labour, which had raised concerns about extending air raids into Syria without the specific authorisation of the United Nations Security Council.

The prime minister wanted to avoid a repeat of last year’s Commons vote on military action in Syria, when Labour combined with Tory rebels to inflict a damaging defeat on the government.