Why I have chosen to vote against air strikes on Syria


I have just stepped out of the Chamber of the House of Commons where I have listened to the cases made for and against extending airstrikes to Syria. Yesterday I attended a briefing by the secretaries of state for Defence, Foreign Affairs, Home Office and DFID, plus one from the Shadow Foreign Secretary. I also met with Muslim MPs, read through a tremendous amount of expert opinion and read through many hundreds of representations from constituents and party members.


I have concluded that I am not yet convinced of the case that the Prime Minister has made that extending air strikes to Syria will make us safer and thus I will be voting against the government motion tonight.


The two key objections that I have been unable to satisfactorily overcome in my mind, are:


  1. That the ground forces (claimed to number as many as 70,000) who are crucial to consolidate gains by aerial bombardment, are unreliable, hugely disparate and have changing allegiances, most of whom would rather fight Assad than ISIL at the moment. And;
  2. That the political transition is anything like advanced enough or that airstrikes on ISIL alone will support rather than cause to falter that process.


The Government hope that by embarking upon a process of political transition started by 19 countries including Jordan, Iran, Russia and China, they can end the civil war and persuade the ground forces to join the campaign against ISIL. If that political process continues from the current small but encouraging steps then I am much more likely in the future to be persuaded that air strikes would be a good idea.


I have no doubt that there is a legal basis for the air strikes being proposed, and I regret that I feel unable for us to fulfil our international obligations proposed by the UN resolution, but sometimes the wisest way to help your friends, neighbours and allies is to convince them that an alternative strategy might deliver on their agreed aims. I am also convinced that little that we do in Syria will make a difference to the level of hatred that we will face from ISIL and their supporters here, we are under threat and will be after our vote tonight, regardless of the outcome.


I want to thank everyone who took time to write to me on this subject, and for the dozens of sympathetic and appreciative comments about the dilemma that faced me. I have never thought that the case was an open and shut one and envy those who enjoy certainty about what to do when faced with a hostile and murderous death cult and the peculiar and particularly bewildering set of circumstances that currently pertain in Syria.


I can assure you that those of my colleagues who have reached a different conclusion do so equally solemnly and also believe in their hearts that voting for these airstrikes is the right thing to do. Regardless of the outcome of the vote I hope that colleagues will in future be able to respect that there is no monopoly on morality and that everyone faced with these most difficult of choices has to answer to their own consciences for that choice.

I have made my choice and I will vote, with hope but without certainty, for that tonight.





17 Responses to “Why I have chosen to vote against air strikes on Syria”

  1. Anne Gee says:

    Thank you.

  2. Breda Arnold says:

    I find myself in the same position as you . I agree that we have to fight terrorism any way we can but feel we should begin by neutralising the threat we face on our home ground, especially that posed by radical preachers etc. I respect the decision you made and feel sure it was reached after much soul searching. I feel there will be no winners in this battle

  3. John Dunsmure says:

    Thank you for this, and I fully agree with you and am pleased that you’ve taken this position.
    One of your pleased constituents!

  4. John Siddall says:

    I agree fully with your summation – There is not a case in any shape or form
    The PM has also not helped to endeer himself by refusing to apologise for his childish comments yesterday evening that only prove to me (as if I needed any further proof) That he is unfit to lead This country into war

  5. Jon Morris says:

    Mr Perkins,
    Having also listened to the debate so far in the H of C, I am very disappointed to read your arguments for voting against the government motion.
    As with virtually all of your like minded colleagues, you say what you won’t to, but avoid having to recommend what you would do. History is against you hesitating to take action against an evil dictatorship and as a person born in Chesterfield and now not too far away, you have let the town down, you have let the people down and your weakness now lets you down.

  6. Liz Watkin says:

    Thank you Toby.
    I firmly belief that air strikes will only increase the resolve of ISIL to cause further murder, bloodshed and chaos worldwide and will definitely not bring about a swift or peaceful resolution of this hideous conflict.

    I commend you for your decision.

  7. Mick Wall says:

    I know it’s been a challenging dilemma to vote on, with no certainty available on the outcome whatever the decision arrived at today.

    However, I strongly believe that by looking at where we are at today, after several years of military action from multiple countries, and especially after such disastrous events such as those we saw with horror recently in Paris perpetrated in part by French citizens, the security of our country as a result of terrorist activity is far from guaranteed by extending bombing raids on ISIL into Syrian territory. Quite the contrary I feel.

    I think it is incumbent on our Government to act, but act intelligently, not just launch air strikes on territory that is already bombed until it’s almost flat with dire humanitarian results.

    Much can be done to force other countries who are funding or supporting ISIL logistically to cease to do so, thus stifling the capability of ISIL in any territory, not just Syria or Iraq.

    I know you have thought long and hard about this, you have consulted widely across the constituency and the local party, and come to the conclusion you feel is appropriate with all the information you have available.

    I want you to know that I support your decision and along with you hope that, whatever the outcome of tonight’s vote, an intelligent, humanitarian response can be arrived at which bring this awful crisis to a timely conclusion.



  8. Colin Walker says:

    The right decision Toby. History will prove you right.

  9. Jessica Brown says:

    Dear Toby,

    You may remember I wrote to you earlier in the year regarding the destruction of Palmyra. This has been on my mind during the run up to this vote, and certainly a part of me wanted to write to you to encourage you to vote in favour of air strikes in Syria. I did believe that it could reduce the immediate threat to heritage sights like Palmyra, and hoped it had the potential to save lives in Syria and to reduce the threat of terrorism in this country.

    However after careful thought I’ve decided that without a more detailed strategy including dependable forces on the ground, air strikes alone will not defend Palmyra or lives in the long run. Therefore, no matter what the result tonight, I would urge you to push for further united intervention with the UN, but with a sense of urgency. This threat is growing daily and we must tackle it in a way which is going to irradicate ISIS for good.

    Kind regards,


  10. Claire Neale says:

    Dear Mr Perkins
    Thank you so much for deciding to vote against air strikes. I am convinced that this is not the way forward. We will be harming innocent people in the process. Isis are not purely in Syria, they are spread like a cancer across the world, weaving their Web of hatred and fear. I believe that if we bomb Syria we will only create generations more people who have a reason to hate the west. Too many people are generalising and grouping Muslims in with Isis, who don’t have the right to use the word ‘Islam’ in their name. We should put more money into our security services, who have done such a great job so far in keeping us safe. We should knock out the communication systems they are using to draw in disaffected and vulnerable people.
    I don’t usually vote Labour but this has really made an impact on me and I am proud to have you to represent my views in the government.
    Claire Neale

  11. Wayne Allen says:

    Dear Toby,

    So pleased you have decided to vote against the motion today. I think the whole thing is complex with no certain outcome.

    I do not believe that we will ever see an end to terrorism and will never make Syria safe.

    Whatever we will do, terrorism will simply change shape.

    We are reacting and not taking a long term view. We are treating ISIL as if it is was a coordinated organization – it is a disparate group without a clear structure.

  12. Simon Redding says:

    Dear Toby,

    I agree that it’s a very difficult decision with wide reaching implications, but think you’ve reached the only sensible conclusion on the available information. The situation appears to be fragmented and highly complex with no clearly sustainable solution to resolve it. Aerial bombardment could be likely to kill many civilians, further alienating & radicalising the Syrian population. The boomerang cartoon neatly if distastefully sums up the potential consequences. It sounds tonight as if we’re launching Syria & the wider world into a very unknown future; we can but hope that civilians are able to escape & it doesn’t escalate beyond the immediate area.

    Thank you for voting the way you have, albeit your representation didn’t win the day.

    The Redding Family

  13. tperkins says:

    It was a difficult decision, I don’t believe I was either ‘weak’ (in your view) or ‘brave (in others), I simply didn’t feel convinced. You say I have proposed no solutions, but what I have suggested was that the political transition process which following the Vienna talks is at least fledgling needs to show moderate Syrians a route to a post Assad transition, and then there is a greater likelihood that the Free Syrian Army and other Middle East coalition partners will turn their attention to ISIL/ Daesh rather than the Assad regime.

    There is a widespread view that air strikes without ground back up will be largely ineffective in holding ground, and the difference between Iraq and Syria has always been the question of who will provide the ground force. Nonetheless there will now be a need to ensure that political pressure is applied alongside the support we will give to our Airmen and women who take on this most dangerous task.

  14. Terry Duff says:

    Sir,the decision was a very difficult one to make but in this instance the government has the high ground. Our NATO allies have asked for assistance and with the bigger picture in mind I feel you have let our proud town down. Chesterfield has always supported our armed forces and its our duty to provide support for our brave personel in a very difficult situation. The speach by your esteemed colleague, Mr Ben,was both inspiring and emotive in its delivery and given the past history of his family I feel he did himself,the party and Britain proud. I fully respect your voting position but sadly this and our leaders veiws has changed my own view and I feel let down that Chesterfield has no strong representative in Government

  15. Frances says:

    Thank you for voting against the air strikes on Syria.

  16. Roger Flint says:

    Toby-as I said on both Facebook and Twitter yesterday I admire the exemplary manner in which you have handled this most difficult personal decision. Your rationale is spot on and the “arm chair warriors” who want to “do something” would do well to think through what our overall strategy is and how many innocent people may get killed as a result. There is no doubt that this evil requires eliminating as soon as possible but we need a proper robust international plan. Don’t worry about rude comments from people who have a different view. In the words of Hemmingway – “Anyone can take the helm when the sea is calm”!

  17. sam tomkinson says:

    Thank you



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.

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