PARLIAMENTARY CONSENT TO ARMING ANTI-GOVERNMENT FORCES IN SYRIA – 11 July 2013

Dr Julian Lewis: I begin with a word of appreciation to the Backbench Business Committee for selecting a debate on this motion. Without wishing to be over-pedantic, I think it is necessary to remind the House of what the motion states:

“That this House believes no lethal support should be provided to anti-government forces in Syria without the explicit prior consent of Parliament.”

This is not a debate about whether lethal force should be made available to the Syrian opposition: we will want to have that debate if and when the Government propose to supply such lethal assistance. I have to say that some Members, though not the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), have made entire speeches that made virtually no, and in some cases absolutely no, reference to the terms of the debate.

I shall indeed keep my remarks short – perhaps even shorter than the four minutes that I am now allowed – by making one specific point about the debate and one specific point about the debate after this one, which I hope we will get if ever we reach the possibility of lethal weaponry being supplied. If the assurances from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the House are worth what we wish and believe they are worth, there should be no prospect whatsoever of anybody on the Front Bench, or on either side of the argument about supplying arms, voting any way other than for this motion. I trust that they will do so. I also trust that there will be a vote today, even if its mechanics require a certain degree of contrivance by those of us who have sought to bring this debate to the House.

I have been making my point about the debate after this one week in, week out, month in, month out: it is a simple point about weapons of mass destruction. Weapons of mass destruction – chemical weapons – are known to exist in very substantial quantities in Syria. We went to war in Iraq precisely to keep al-Qaeda from any possibility of getting its hands on weapons of mass destruction – chemical weapons – that were thought to exist in Iraq. In this situation, people who wish to supply lethal aid can have no guarantee that, if Assad falls, the chemical weapons that he holds will not fall into the hands of the jihadists who are fighting on the side of the opposition. You do not have to believe me, Mr Speaker – you just have to look at the Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report, which says at paragraph 67:

“The security of these chemical weapons stocks” –

that is, Assad’s stocks –

“is also of serious concern. The Chief of SIS noted the risk of ‘a highly worrying proliferation around the time of regime fall.’ There has to be a significant risk that some of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile could fall into the hands of those with links to terrorism, in Syria or elsewhere in the region – if this happens the consequences could be” –

Adam Afriyie: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. There is already some evidence that certain rebels have swapped sides to the al-Nusra Front.

Dr Lewis: I am extremely grateful for that intervention. I am absolutely certain that there can be no guarantee – in playing with weapons with an opposition as mixed as this one – that the people who end up on top will be the moderate, secular, democrats about whom we have heard so much in this debate. I must finish the quote from the ISC report, which concluded that

“if this happens, the consequences could be catastrophic”.

There are almost as many strands in the alliance of opponents of supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition as there are in the Syrian opposition itself. I have not made some great journey from the Thatcherite right of the Conservative Party to the centre left of the political spectrum – despite your excellent example, Mr Speaker, in that respect – and I do not intend to do so. I believe in the security of this country, so I will vote No in the future debate about supplying weapons to the opposition, but we should all vote Yes in today’s vote on Parliament having its say first.

[This Motion was carried by 114 votes to 1, after the Coalition Government instructed its MPs to abstain.]