2 Jul 2015

PM calls for British airstrikes against IS in Syria

In the wake of the Tunisia attack, the prime minister and defence secretary call for MPs to consider if Britain should send its warplanes to bomb the self-styled Islamic State group in Syria.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said on Thursday that he wants MPs to “be thinking about these issues and about what we are doing to tackle ISIL”.

“What has changed is the growing evidence that Isil poses a threat to people here in Britain and our national security,” the spokeswoman told reporters.

On Thursday Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the House of Commons that they should consider extending military airstrikes against the Islamic State group to include Syria as well as Iraq.

Since a coalition led by the United States began airstrikes against the extremist group, the UK has been involved in nearly 1,000 missions in Iraq and nearly 300 strikes against IS bases.

There are over 900 British servicemen and women in the area. Last year the British government spent £45m fighting IS and it expectrs to spend £75m this year.


But Mr Fallon said on Wednesday it was “illogical” that UK planes were able to hit extremists in Iraq but not over the border and added that any evidence that last week’s massacre in Tunisia was planned or ordered in Syria would show that the IS leadership in the country represents a direct threat to the British people.

There’s no military necessity for this. We are not providing very many of the aircraft. Crispin Blunt

He said that, under the previous coalition government, there had been a reluctance to take action in Syria that could prop up the Assad regime – but that the new government may take a different view.

“We know that Isil is organised and directed from northern Syria,” he told the Commons. “That is why the prime minister said in the debate last September on taking military action in Iraq, that there is a strong case for us to do more in Syria.

“However, the prime minister recognised then the reservations that some members of this house had and we will not bring a motion to this house where there is not some consensus.”

David Cameron with RAF in Cyprus

Mr Cameron was scarred by a Commons defeat in 2013 when he asked MPs to vote on the prospect of military intervention in Syria, following a Damascus chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.

But the prime minister’s spokeswoman said “a lot has happened” since the chemical weapon attack, including “most recently” the Tunisia beach massacre.

“The investigation so far suggests there are links to Isil,” she said.

‘Grey area’

However, there has been opposition to the idea from within Mr Cameron’s own ranks.

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said that UK involvement in Syria would make little military difference on the ground, but could involve Britain in a legal “grey area”.

“There’s no military necessity for this. We are not providing very many of the aircraft. Five per cent of the missions are being flown by the United Kingdom,” he said.

“Therefore it makes no practical difference, and we are getting ourselves in to a slightly more legal grey area. I don’t think it’s as clear as people have said. It’s easy to come in as guests of the Government of Iraq at their invitation in their country.

“It becomes slightly more questionable when you don’t have a UN Security Council resolution and you are operating in another country.”

Mr Blunt said that the key priority should be diplomatic action to encourage Sunni states in the region to develop a strategy to defeat IS on the ground and occupy the areas they currently dominate in Iraq and Syria.