CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

PRIME MINISTER – BRITISH MILITARY OPERATIONS IN SYRIA – 26 November 2015

Dr Julian Lewis: Many hon. and right hon. Members, including me, entirely agree with the Prime Minister that ISIL/Daesh must be crushed militarily in Syria – the crushing will indeed have to be military – but, as he acknowledged at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, air strikes alone will not be effective; they have got to be in co-ordination with credible ground forces. I have to say that the suggestion that there are 70,000 non-Islamist, moderate, credible ground forces is a revelation to me and, I suspect, to most other Members in this House. Adequate ground forces, in my view, depend on the participation of the Syrian army, so if the dictator Assad refuses to resign, which is the greater danger to our national interest: Syria under him or the continued existence and expansion of ISIL/Daesh? We may have to choose between one and the other.

[The Prime Minister: I have great respect for my right hon. Friend, who thinks about these things very carefully. There are a lot of grounds of agreement between us: we agree on the dangers of ISIL; we agree that it needs to be crushed; we agree that that will need the involvement of ground forces; and we also agree that, as I put in my response to the Foreign Affairs Committee, we need an ISIL-first strategy – ISIL is the greater threat to the United Kingdom. I think the only areas of disagreement between us are on a technical point and a slightly more profound but not unbridgeable one. The technical point is that what I have said about 70,000 moderate forces in Syria is not my figure; it is the considered opinion of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a Committee that was set up and given independence to avoid any of the mistakes we had in the past of the potential misuse of intelligence and other information. This is its considered view; that document has been entirely cleared by the Committee, as has my statement.

The other issue we have to come to is that of course my right hon. Friend and I agree that in time the best ground troops should be the Syrian army, but my view is that that will be more likely to happen after a political transition has taken place in Syria. My contention is that the problem of believing it can be done with Assad is that we will never get the ceasefire and we will never get the participation of the Sunni majority in Syria while Assad is still there. I think the area of disagreement between us is narrowing, as is the area of disagreement between Britain, America and France, and the Russians; we all now see the need for there to be both a military and a political solution.]