Q and A: David Cameron’s dilemma over Syria airstrikes

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PRIME Minister David Cameron is preparing to make the case for why the UK should extend its bombing raids into Syria following the Paris terror attacks.

* How will MPs have their say on Mr Cameron’s plan?

The Government is attempting to sound out the level of support from MPs for any future vote, reportedly desired before Christmas, on military intervention in Syria.

It is expected Mr Cameron will present his arguments this week when responding to a Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, which expressed fears over the lack of a comprehensive military and diplomatic strategy.

* Will the Government win the vote?

On issues of military action, it’s not considered good enough for the Government to scrape a victory in the Commons by just a handful of votes - there needs to be clear parliamentary will.

The chances of success are very much dependent on what is presented to MPs.

There are Tory MPs who will oppose the action so ministers want to be confident they have the support of a sufficient number of opposition MPs before proceeding.

The events of August 2013 are influencing the Government’s approach as Mr Cameron is reluctant to suffer a second defeat on military intervention in Syria.

The Government’s current working majority is considered to be 17 MPs.

* What happened in August 2013?

The then coalition government was humbled by 285 votes to 272, majority 13, over a motion which explored the possibility of air strikes against Syrian president Bashar Assad after his forces used chemical weapons to kill civilians.

US president Barack Obama was preparing for US action on Syria but support from the UK did not follow.


* Why is this vote different?

The focus of the air strikes are now on so-called Islamic State (IS), an extremist group which came to greater prominence in summer 2014 after it seized land in northern Syria and Iraq in a series of lightning attacks.

While the group has slaughtered people living in the Middle East for many months and released a series of gruesome videos, including ones in which Western hostages have been beheaded, the recent attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian airliner have prompted a stronger global response.

A United Nations Security Council resolution now exists calling for member states to “take all necessary measures” which are legal to eradicate IS but this does not provide explicit backing for military action.

One thing that does remain the same as 2013 is the uncertainty over the long-term solution for Syria once the bombing ends.

* Will UK air strikes resolve the ongoing Syrian civil war?

Not on its own. IS represents not just a group of people but an idea which is seeking to exploit feelings over the region’s history - including the legacy of the imperial era of Western nations - the power vacuum and its people.

There is an acceptance a counter-narrative has to triumph over the one presented by IS while attacks from the air alone will not dislodge the extremists, with troops on the ground from regional powers required.

France, the United States and Russia are already among those nations bombing IS targets - with the Russians also viewed to be attacking rebel forces in support of Assad’s regime.

It is important not to forget Assad, who is clinging to power and leads a regime accused of war crimes after pursuing a brutal and deadly campaign against rebel forces and its own civilians.

Assad’s role in a transition to secure peace remains unclear although international leaders predominantly see no long-term future for him in power.

* What is the Labour Party’s view?

That’s not entirely clear at the moment, not just for the public but for the party’s MPs. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing anti-war campaigner, has previously ruled out a free vote.

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell has indicated his preference for such a move, and on Sunday he said the shadow cabinet will discuss the option before speaking with MPs.

Mr Corbyn wants diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Syrian civil war to be bolstered by the United Nations resolution, adding Labour will consider proposals brought forward by the Government.

It is highly likely the Opposition leader will not be able to command total support from his party should he wish to oppose a Government move for air strikes and whip his MPs to vote against it.

* Can Mr Cameron count on support from other political parties and key figures in the Commons?

Conservative Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, believes the conditions outlined in his committee’s report can now be met - potentially removing an obstacle.

The Democratic Unionists, who have eight MPs, have signalled they are willing to back air strikes if the PM can demonstrate they are in the national interest and realistic.

The SNP, which has 56 MPs and is Westminster’s third largest party, is more cautious on the matter with air strikes viewed as a potential part of a wider solution.

Deputy leader Stewart Hosie suggested Mr Cameron should signal his intention to seek a UN resolution which specifically approves military action.