Corbyn warns against intervention in Syria

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
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JEREMY CORBYN has warned against “external intervention” in Syria as he faced mounting pressure to allow Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against IS in the wake of a new United Nations resolution.

The Opposition leader said the unanimous Security Council adoption of a motion asking countries to “combat by all means this unprecedented threat” should be used to bolster efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war.

UN backing for concerted global action is likely to encourage more Labour MPs to back extending RAF air strikes from Iraq into Syria in defiance of the leader’s stance when the Government seeks parliamentary approval.

Mr Corbyn - who has refused to rule out whipping his party to vote against - said Labour “will consider the proposals the Government brings forward”.

“But in our view the dreadful Paris attacks make the case for a far more urgent international effort to reach a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war and end the threat from Isis,” he told party activists in a speech in Bristol.

He said Britain’s involvement in “a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East” had made the UK less secure from attack.

“That in no way excuses or mitigates the responsibility of those who carry out these indefensible outrages, whether in Paris a week ago or in the last 24 hours in Bamako, Mali, or Beirut or Ankara,” he said.

“But the experience of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya has convinced many of our own people that the elite’s enthusiasm for endless military interventions has only multiplied the threats to us - while leaving death and destabilisation in their wake.”

A string of senior figures have criticised Mr Corbyn for insisting the party will seek a common position - and close ally John McDonnell said he believed it was generally better for MPs to be allowed to follow their conscience on matters of war.

As backbenchers, both consistently voted against the party line on a range of issues.

“We are trying to be thoroughly democratic in all this. There would be a real debate and consultation within the Parliamentary Labour Party and the shadow cabinet,” the shadow chancellor told LBC Radio.

“A lot of people’s minds will be made up on the very detail of what (David) Cameron brings forward and I think that is going to be the same within all the other political parties, both the SNP and the Conservative Party.

“Because if it is a strategy that doesn’t stack up and could make matters worse I think people will not want to vote for it. If it is a realistic strategy that runs alongside the prospect of a peaceful settlement at the end of the day, some people may.

“My own view on all these matters has been around these issues, is whether you have a whip vote or a free vote; I have always had a bit of a preference for free votes when you go to war and all the rest of it, but that will be a debate within the party, we will arrive at that I think, I am hoping, in a comradely and democratic way.”

Labour MP Mike Gapes - a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee - said it would be “deplorable” if Labour failed to back military action in Syria in the wake of the UN vote.

Mr Corbyn has faced flak from his own MPs for questioning the legality of the killing of Mohammed Emwazi - the IS assassin known as “Jihadi John” - in a US air strike and his continued association with the Stop the War Coalition, which issued a statement in the wake of the Paris attacks suggesting the city had “reaped the whirlwind” of Western interventions.

In his speech, he said: “It is the conflict in Syria and the consequences of the Iraq war which have created the conditions for Isis to thrive and spread its murderous rule.

“And it is through political agreement to end the civil war - negotiated with all the external powers, backed by the United Nations and with Syrians in control of their own country - that Isis will be isolated and defeated.

“It can’t be seen as an external intervention ... although the international community has a part to play.

“That’s why we have called on the Government to work through the UN. And why we should use the UN Security Council resolution passed last night to accelerate moves towards a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.”

Meanwhile, Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, a Leeds MP, said the Security Council vote “must be seen as part of an overall effort to accelerate moves towards a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in Syria”.

“As we have consistently said, Labour will judge any proposal the Government brings forward on British military action in Syria on the basis of what difference it would make to our objective of defeating Isil/Daesh, its objectives, its legal basis and the views of other nations in the region,” he said.

“Crucially it must be part of a wider and more comprehensive strategy to end the threat they pose and achieve a negotiated solution to the Syrian civil war.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “The fact that Russia did not use its veto is an important first step towards creating the broad coalition that the Liberal Democrats have been calling for as the only effective context for considering proposals for military action.

“The UK should now use all its diplomatic skills to support the efforts being made in Vienna to assemble an anti-Isil coalition including Russia, Turkey, Iran and other key states in the region.

“At the same time, the Prime Minister must address the questions raised in the Foreign Affairs Committee report when he presents to Parliament the long-term strategy for any military action in Syria. That must include the planning for post-Isil Syria, which has so far been absent amid the calls for UK planes to be engaged in strikes.”