The international community is now facing not only a deteriorating context of insecurity in the region but one of the greatest humanitarian crises since the Second World War.
I am deeply concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to flee their homes and seek asylum in other countries throughout the Middle East and Europe. I attended the urgent debate on the refugee crisis in September 2015, and strongly supported Yvette Cooper’s call to increase the number of refugees the UK was going to accept. 4,000 refugees in one year compared to the hundreds of thousands that Germany is accepting is an unambitious and disappointing target.
I have also tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions to the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State for International Development and Foreign Affairs to demand details of the action they will take to address this desperate situation. Finally, I have written a joint letter with Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and Sir Keir Starmer QC, MP for Holborn and St Pancras urging the Prime Minister take a leading role in tackling this crisis. The full letter can be foundhere.
ISIL/Daesh pose a threat both regionally in its main area of military operations and internationally through terrorism. ISIL/ Daesh’s depraved acts of violence have included subjecting women to unspeakable sexual violence, killing gay people and murdering innocent civilians in Paris, Egypt, Beirut, Ankara and Tunisia. Labour has consistently called on the Government to strain every sinew to secure international agreement on a plan to end the Syrian civil war -; which has created the chaos, fear and violence in which ISIL/Daesh has thrived and has led to a large number of refugees seeking shelter in Europe -; and to develop a plan to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh.
I welcome the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous approval of this resolution that urges UN member states to take all necessary measures to combat ISIL/Daesh in Iraq and Syria because of the unprecedented threat it represents to international peace and security. I will carefully consider any proposals the Government brings forward to address the persisting threat of ISIL/Daesh, but it is essential that any proposal brought forward command the confidence of parliament. As I am sure you are aware, the Prime Minister made clear in the Commons debate last year that British involvement in air strikes against ISIL would only be extended to Syria with Parliamentary approval.
It is deeply concerning, therefore, that we have now learnt via a Freedom of Information request that some UK pilots have been embedded with Coalition forces conducting air strikes against ISIL in Syria and that the Government had approved this without consulting or informing Parliament. I believe that Parliament should have been told about this action and that the Government have acted in a way that has put trust and confidence at risk. I hope that, going forward, the Government learn from this and carefully and clearly lay out any further proposals for UK military action against ISIL in Syria.
There also needs to be more resources and effort directed to planning a Syrian Peace Process, which would secure an immediate ceasefire and planning for a transitional government prior to national elections. This may appear a distant goal, but it is nevertheless crucial we help facilitate this process as ISIL/Daesh thrives where vacuums of power and conditions of chaos exist.
Ultimately, the decision to commit UK forces into conflict zones is the most serious decision a Government can take. I have a number of reservations about the UK committing military forces into a context which is so complex and where there is no single enemy, that is why I believe it is crucial that any Government proposal brought forward must address the key issues and tests Labour have raised.