PRIME MINISTER – SYRIA – 7 September 2015

Dr Julian Lewis: My right hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Andrew Mitchell) and for North Somerset (Dr Liam Fox) have both raised the possibility of safe havens in Syria itself to stem the flow of refugees at source. If this is to work, it would require a United Nations mandate, which would require the support of Russia. Do the Government recognise that remaining fixated on removing Assad puts a bar on any solution of this sort? Will the Government make up their mind that the main threat to our interest is Daesh? If so, we can then proceed to have a genuinely international coalition and agreement against that main threat.

[The Prime Minister: I very much respect my right hon. Friend’s views, but on this occasion I do not agree with him on two grounds. I do not think it is right to look at Syria and say that we have to choose between ISIL or Assad. It would be a great mistake to think that because Assad is perhaps the lesser of two evils we should back him. Assad is one of the chief recruiting sergeants for ISIL because of the butchery of his own people. I do not think there is a workable proposal for safe havens as things stand today, but it has been possible in past times to intervene in that way to try to keep people safe. If you were acting to try to alleviate a humanitarian emergency, you could act in that way, but the problem is that safe havens would require a large military intervention, and a large military intervention that I do not currently believe is the right answer.]