ISIL in Syria - debate

6.59 pm

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): I am grateful, Mr Speaker, to be called in this important debate.

We have heard many speeches from both sides which have shown considerable passion and a surprising degree of knowledge and commitment. This has been one of the best debates that I have had the privilege to participate in. If we are to look at the question cleanly and lucidly, we have to try to remove the impassioned speeches. As others have mentioned, everyone in the House is equally appalled by the barbarous crimes of ISIL or Daesh. We are united in that. No one can claim the moral high ground by being more against ISIL or Daesh than anyone else. What we have to do as legislators is look at the premise of the argument and at what the Government are trying to do.

The Government, in a way that is historically and constitutionally not usual, are asking the House of Commons to extend a campaign for which the House voted overwhelmingly in a previous Parliament only 18 months ago. The vote was something like 524 to 43. This gave the Prime Minister and the Government authority to launch attacks on Daesh in Iraq. For the life of me I have not been able to understand why those people who in the last Parliament voted for intervention in Iraq draw the line, so to speak, in Syria.

Those borders, as everyone knows, are incredibly artificial. After 1918, they moved around two or three times. The Sykes-Picot agreement that people go on about did not define Iraq and Syria. It simply defined regions within those countries, which were under British and French rule in the form of a mandate.

Ian Blackford: I ask the hon. Gentleman to understand some of the problems for those of us who oppose the motion. We all want to see peace and stability. All of us in the House agree on that, but the difficulty we have is that we cannot see that the air campaign in itself will defeat Daesh. We now know that the 70,000 troops do not exist. How are we going to defeat Daesh? It is not clear.

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Kwasi Kwarteng: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am pleased to see him in his place. He was not in the last Parliament, where we had an extensive debate about intervention. No one ever believed that an air campaign on its own would defeat and destroy that terrorist organisation. That was never the case that was made. I hear people say that an air attack is no good because Daesh will survive it, but that is not what anyone has suggested. It is part of a suite of things we can do to fight against this evil terrorist organisation.

Mr Anderson rose—

Kwasi Kwarteng: I have given way once; I shall make progress.

I hear Members opposed to the Government’s motion saying, “Why don’t we challenge Daesh on the internet?” I hear colleagues today ask why we do not try to attack the ideology. We can do all these things. None of them militates against the other; it is not a question of either/or. These actions are part of a range of responses that we need to deploy against something that we have never seen in the modern world.

When people look at what the Government are trying to do, it is no good talking about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That was a completely different set of circumstances. It involved the commitment of British ground troops in a transnational coalition. What the Government are asking for today is an extension of what has already happened. People cannot, on the one hand, say that it will be the most devastating thing in the world if we bomb ISIS targets, and on the other hand say, “It wouldn’t do very much so what’s the point?” It is one thing or the other, but people on the other side of the argument have said both. They have said that airstrikes are so insignificant that we should not bother, and they have said that they will devastate and bomb Syria into oblivion. Both of those statements cannot be true.

It has never been part of the Government’s case that a bombing campaign in itself would destroy ISIS. Three things have happened: the Sharm el-Sheikh outrage, the Tunisian outrage and the particularly savage attacks in Paris. These have completely shifted the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and it is entirely justified for the Government to extend the provision to attack Syria, as they have done in Iraq.