Oral Question: Syria

- Thursday, 26th November 2015

 

Syria Conflict

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response and for the fact that his party wants to engage with the arguments, think very carefully and consider the key national security arguments before making its judgment. I know that the national security adviser was pleased to brief its members last night and stands ready to brief them and answer any detailed questions that they might have. I am determined that there should be no knee-jerk reaction. I take very seriously what happened in Paris. I know absolutely that that could just as well happen in the UK, as it could happen in Belgium or elsewhere in Europe, and that the threat that we face is very, very severe. I want us to consider this and to think it through. I do not want anyone to feel that a good process has not been followed, so that if people agree with the case being put, they can in all conscience vote to support it.

 

The hon. Gentleman asked two specific questions. On humanitarian aid, we will continue to deliver that. On no-bomb zones, the dangers and difficulties with no-bomb zones and safe zones are that they have to be enforced, and that can require the taking out of air defences, which would spread the conflict wider and which, in many cases, requires the presence of ground troops. We will not be putting in ground troops for those purposes. I do not want to declare a safe zone unless it is genuinely safe. Of course what we want is a growing part of Iraq and a growing part of Syria to be no-bomb zones because there will no bombing taking place as we will have a political agreement that will deliver the ceasefires that we need, and we will have taken action to reduce ISIL.

 

On the question of ground troops and the role of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, they on the whole have been helping to fund the moderate Syrian opposition which, in my view, needs to play a part in the future of that country, and they strongly support the action that Britain proposes to take.

 

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that boots on the ground are ultimately essential if bombing is to be relevant. I would like him to convince me that what he refers to as the Free Syrian Army actually exists and is not a label that we apply to a rag-bag group of clans and tribal forces with no coherent force. I would like him to convince me that there is a moderate group that we can back, whereas in times of constitutional dissolution it is almost a law of human nature that people rally to the most extreme and forceful advocate of their group; 

 

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there are no moderates. I would like my right hon. Friend to believe that these forces, if they exist, can this time can be persuaded to act against the Islamists, whereas last time he wanted and expected them to act against Assad.

 

The Prime Minister: I very much respect my right hon. Friend’s point of view because he is absolutely asking the right question about what troops there are on the ground to help us, and the truth is that there are moderate forces—the forces of the Free Syrian Army. They have a particular role in the south of the country abutting the Jordan border. They have taken the fight to ISIL, and they have, as I said in my statement, prevented ISIL from taking vital ground. When we work either with them or with Kurdish forces, we can see the effect of them taking ground, holding ground and, indeed, administering territory, as I set out in my reply to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Let me add that there is one way to ensure that the only choice for Syrians who do not back Assad is to join ISIL, and that is if we do not support the moderate forces. Most people in Syria are neither massive fans of Assad or psychopathic Islamist extremist killers. Most people in Syria want to have a pluralistic country where they can get on with their lives. That is who the Free Syrian Army and other moderate groups are fighting for, and that is why they deserve our support.

 

 

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