I have been humbled and proud to receive so many messages of support regarding my stance on Syria. For those of you who missed it here’s my Commons speech below:
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). She is obviously thinking hard about how to vote later, and I know that a lot of right hon. and hon. Members feel the same way.
I wish briefly to address the words of the corrected motion and the intent behind it, then I will turn to the Opposition amendment. First, however, I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign
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Secretary on effectively putting the brakes on a Government who were heading for military action this weekend. Of that I think the House can agree there is no doubt. My right hon. Friends have served the country and the Commons well through their actions, especially over the past 24 hours, and I hope that the Opposition will continue to lead in the same way and act as a restraint on the Government.
This is not the debate that the House expected to have, it is certainly not the debate that No. 10 was planning, and it is not the one that the media predicted would happen, but there have none the less been some excellent contributions. Despite the fact that there will be another debate and vote next week, this has been a useful exercise in testing the issues at stake.
I turn to the motion, which I have real problems supporting. That is not because I am a supporter of President Assad—I am not—but neither do I support the jihadist element of the Syrian Opposition that has been referred to in many contributions today. The wording of the corrected motion is important. The first and second paragraphs are straightforward in their commentary and condemnation. The third introduces the requirement of military action, and the fourth, fifth and sixth are very instructive. The fourth notes
“the failure of the United Nations”.
“that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime…and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action”.
The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said that tonight’s vote was not really important, because the important vote would be next week. I say to the Liberal Democrats in particular that if we get another debate and a vote next week, I predict that those words will come back to haunt them. The Conservatives are boxing them in by saying, “You’ve got to support military action, since the UN has failed, and we don’t need it anyway. We’ve got legitimacy, because the Attorney-General says so, and we’ve got international coalition support. It’s only the Russians and Chinese who don’t support it.”
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the general secretary of the Arab League has tonight said on CNN that it shies away from backing western intervention, and that it would intensify anti-US feeling in the region? Those of us who have been sitting here all day have had a chance to google.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that information to the House. It clearly demonstrates the fragility of the international coalition lined up behind the attempt to intervene militarily in Syria.
The Opposition amendment, it is fair to say, is at least more open and honest. However, from my reading it essentially endorses the same principle: if we address certain issues and if certain conditions are met, military action can happen. I do not believe that it should happen under any circumstances. The Opposition amendment is stronger and clearer, but whereas the
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Government motion is explicit in its direction of travel towards military action, the Opposition amendment states that we will go there if the conditions in six of the paragraphs it lays out are met. My concern is about the end game and the exit strategy. There have been many excellent contributions to the debate—
“precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria”.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I have exactly the same difficulty as the hon. Gentleman—I do not know what they are either. I do not think that they are identifiable. I do not think that they are achievable. My objection, as I was saying a moment ago, is that there is not an exit strategy or an end game. There have been many contributions to the debate in which colleagues have said, “If we do this, that will happen. If we do not do that, this will happen.” Only one thing is absolutely guaranteed: nobody knows what will happen if we go down the road of military action. We have seen that too often in recent decades. The difficulty I have is the fact that we do not have an exit strategy.
In conclusion, and for the hon. Gentleman’s information, I have problems with both the Government motion and the Opposition amendment. Ultimately, I do not believe that either is able to achieve the honourable ends that both sides of the House want. I am opposed to military intervention in Syria full stop. To be honest and consistent on both questions, I will vote in the No Lobby against the Government motion and against the Opposition amendment.