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“The most agonising decision …”

In this latest blog, Toby Perkins MP explains his vote on air strikes against Iraq last Friday.

There are many different challenges I face as a Member of Parliament.  But no decision is as agonising as whether to commit our brave armed forces to action abroad.  This is exactly the decision I faced when Parliament was recalled last week to discuss and vote on air strikes against ISIL in Iraq.

Serious in front of flagI was pleased to see in the debate on Friday that almost all of the MPs present understood the grave importance of what we were discussing.  I detected no jingoism or burning desire to rush to war from anyone in the Chamber.  At the end of the debate I, like the majority of MPs in all parties and the British public at large, made the decision that the best course of action was to approve the limited use of air strikes against ISIL within Iraq only, and I voted accordingly.

I am certainly not someone who backs military action in a knee-jerk manner.  Last year, as Chesterfield’s MP I voted against David Cameron’s plan to take military action in Syria.  However, in this case I believe the circumstances are very different, and I’d like to explain to everyone in Chesterfield why.

  1. This is not an invasion or Iraq, or an attack on Iraq.  The elected Prime Minister of Iraq, a key ally of Britain in the region, has formally requested that UK forces assist Iraqi forces in expelling ISIL from his country.  Due to this formal request there are no questions of illegality or invading a sovereign state as there were in 2003.
  2. Our forces will be engaged in support of an army which is already on the ground.    There is no question of putting British boots on the ground, because the fight-back in the field against ISIL is already being conducted by the Iraqi government’s forces.  But we need to support them through our air force and superior technology.
  3. There is broad international support for our mission, including from several key players in the region.  Already, the action the US has undertaken in conjunction with Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar has made an impact and turned the tide of this conflict against ISIL.  Unlike in 2003 there is a broad-based international alliance in place to support the mission.
  4. Whether we like it or not, we are fighting an enemy who has already openly declared war on us.  The scale of violence which ISIL have unleashed is staggering.  We have seen already that their tactics include beheadings, crucifixions, gouging out of eyes, use of rape as a weapon and genocide (which as a signature to the UN convention, we not only have a right, but a duty, to prevent).  These tactics have been used against mainstream Muslims, Christians, a smaller religious group called Yazidis, and of course the Kurds.  And they have threatened to send their recruits back to Britain to unleash similar tactics here.  ISIL is not simply another terrorist organisation.

Of course, I am not arguing that air strikes alone will stop ISIL.  As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in the simultaneous debate in the House of Lords: “The action proposed today is right. We must demonstrate that there is a positive vision far greater and more compelling than the evil of ISIL.” I agree.  We need to increase our humanitarian efforts in the region, we need to build bridges with other Arab countries including Iran, and we need to counter extremism at home.

However, it is clear that part of this problem requires a military solution.  ISIL have now conquered an area the size of Britain within the nation of Iraq.  Anyone trapped behind their lines who does not sign up wholeheartedly to their abhorrent ideology, based on an evil perversion of the peaceful religion of Islam, is subject to the kind of horrific violence I have outlined above.  So we know exactly what kind of government they would be if they were to succeed and conquer the territory they desire.

A safer Iraq will lead to a safer Britain.  At the end of the conflict which is already raging we will have either:

  1. an elected government in an Iraq, which whilst far from perfect will be on the road to democracy
  2. or we will have a confident and expansionist Islamist Stage, more bloodthirsty than even the Taliban were in Afghanistan, bordering our NATO ally in Turkey and touching the banks of the Mediterranean.

We cannot wish away this crucial issue.  Our national security is hugely affected by which outcome occurs which means Britain must play a role.  Likewise Britain can make contributions which none of our allies can, for example only we possess the Brimstone precision missile which does much to minimise the risk of civilian casualties.

So for these reasons I voted for the very specific and limited motion put before the House of Commons on Friday.  I also used the debate to urge politicians to make clear our intervention has nothing to do with attacking Islam.  ISIL have murdered far more Muslims than adherents to any other faith and the vast, vast majority of British Muslims reject completely the ISIL ideology which they believe to be an evil perversion of their peaceful faith.  As the Muslim Council of Britain has said; “The un-Islamic fanatics are not acting as Muslims … they are acting as monsters. They are perpetrating the worst crimes against humanity … it is a war against all humanity.”

It is important that we learn the lessons of our recent history, and one of those is that action and inaction both have consequences.  Whilst the future for Iraq remains uncertain my judgement was that this course of action has the best prospects of a successful outcome.

This is why I voted for the specific motion last Friday.  Like people across Chesterfield, tonight my thoughts and prayers are with our armed forces and those who live in fear of tyranny across the world.


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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF


I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
Please call 01246 386286 or email to make a booking.

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