CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

SYRIA – 16 April 2018

Dr Julian Lewis: I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), as she has done a service to the entire House [by securing this emergency debate on Syria]. I do not agree with all her views, but I was more than happy to support her application. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have referred to what is sometimes called the endgame in Syria, and I think there are four possibilities:

  • Option No. 1 is a negotiated deal with give and take on both sides, which seems to be almost out of the question.
  • Option No. 2 is a de facto stalemate, with the effective partition of territory between opposing forces – that is possible but unlikely.
  • Option No. 3 is a win by the rebels, which is now impossible, unless we enter the war, as we disastrously did in Iraq and in Libya.
  • Option No. 4 is a win by the regime, which is highly probable.

In December 2015, the House voted to bomb Islamist terrorists in Syria, as we had been doing in Iraq for more than a year. For the next 17 months, we mounted more than 800 airstrikes in Iraq but only 95 in Syria. Why the huge disparity? It was because in Iraq we want one side, the Iraqi Government, to win and the other side, the Islamist fighters, to lose, whereas the situation in Syria is totally different. As I have said previously, it is a choice between monsters and maniacs, with the inhuman Assad regime on one side and the jihadist fanatics dominating the other. Right hon. and hon. Members should be in no doubt that the armed opposition in Syria is indeed dominated by vicious Islamist factions. Only the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurds, are at all acceptable to us, and they are now under attack from the Turks, who are supposedly our allies in NATO but are increasingly cosying up to the Russians.

Airstrikes risk inflicting lethal collateral damage, which is why the Prime Minister was absolutely right when she said to us earlier that this was a “targeted and limited” action. That is as it should be and that is how it must remain. I have been concerned about suggestions in the debate, once again, that we should widen this out into a broader intervention in the Syrian civil war. That will be to repeat the mistakes we made in Libya and in Iraq. I have to disagree with the Father of the House, because if we had gone to war in 2013, although there was talk about bombing to prevent chemical attacks, the reality is that it would not have stopped until we had toppled Assad and the result would have been similar to the one in Libya.

There are three guidelines we should follow in any further military action that we feel we have to take. First, we must remember that, apart from the SDF, neither side in the Syrian civil war deserves our support. Secondly, we must continue to impress on Russia that the action we are taking is solely to punish, degrade and deter the use of poison gas, and is not the thin end of a regime-change wedge. Finally, we must ensure that we have engaged in a one-off punishment that will not be repeated unless further chemical attacks take place.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: May I correct what my right hon. Friend said earlier? In 2013, we had discussions in the National Security Council and in the Cabinet, and we were absolutely clear that we were asking only for targeted, proportionate attacks on sites connected with chemical weapons. The then Government had discussed and agreed that we were not going to get involved in the wider Syrian civil war, and I agree with my right hon. Friend that that is as desirable an objective now as it was then.

Dr Lewis: I am glad to have the extra time to say that my right hon. and learned Friend did not mention the conflict in Libya. With Libya, we were told exactly the same thing: that we were voting for a protective measure – a no-fly zone to protect the citizens of Benghazi – but the moment that we retrospectively gave our approval for that, it was all out for a bombing campaign to topple that regime. I do not doubt for one moment what my right hon. and learned Friend has said to the House, but I have it from other sources that I cannot quote that I am not at all far from the truth in saying that had we acted in 2013, the result in Syria would have been the same as the result in Libya. Even if that were wrong, the people who are at fault are the people who misled the House in 2011 about Libya when they did not say that we were going to try to topple Gaddafi. Had they said that, I would have voted against that action. I believe that I and the 29 other Conservatives who voted the way we did on Syria in 2013 were absolutely right to do so.

With that, my time is up, so I simply say that we should spend more money on Defence so that we will have more Defence options.