A Labour MP who defied her party’s leadership and linked up with Tory bobby-slanderer Andrew Mitchell to demand military, humanitarian and diplomatic action in Syria has been rebuffed by the Conservative Government.
This Writer is now awaiting renewed – ridiculous – SNP claims that Labour is “in bed with the Tories”.
Jo Cox’s argument was well-attended, despite the fact that it was an adjournment debate held after 10pm yesterday. But there was no vote and her arguments were rebuffed by Tobias Ellwood, under-secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs. Here are the highlights:
“Will we step up to play our part in stopping the abject horror of the Syrian civil war and the spread of the modern-day fascism of ISIS, or will we step to one side, say that it is too complicated, and leave Iran, Russia, Assad and ISIS to turn the country into a graveyard? Whatever we decide will stay with us for ever, and I ask that each of us take that responsibility personally,” said Ms Cox.
“My heart sank as I watched in 2013 when, following President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, we first voted against a military response and then supported taking military options off the table.
“Our failure to intervene to protect civilians left Assad at liberty to escalate both the scale and the ferocity of his attacks on innocent Syrians in a desperate attempt to cling to power.
“Syria is not Iraq. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning because I believed that the risk to civilian lives was too high, and their protection was never the central objective.
“We can, and must, address both Assad and ISIS for two principal reasons. First, a sole focus on ISIS will not end the conflict and the threats to our interests. The Assad regime ignited, and continues to drive, the violence in Syria. This year alone, it has killed seven times more civilians than ISIS, so a strategy that only focuses on ISIS will not end the fighting or the threat to regional stability. It will not stem the tide of desperate refugees pouring into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, or trying to get into Europe.
“The UK’s response to the refugee crisis, which has, to date, been woefully inadequate. Taking 20,000 refugees over five years is simply not good enough; it sends an awful message about how seriously we take civilian protection. Whether it is the response to the drownings in the Mediterranean or our offer to take Syrian refugees, the Prime Minister has been pushed into climbdown after climbdown, embarrassed into action by the humanity of the British public. It is time for him to lead, not follow.
“A no-fly zone would be an enormous military undertaking, and would entail significant risks, particularly now that Russia has joined the regime in the Syrian skies.
“I agree that we should try to secure a UN Security Council resolution, but I do not think we should limit ourselves to not acting without one. I believe a no-bombing zone is feasible if it is enforced from maritime assets in the Mediterranean, so as to avoid engaging Syrian air defences.”
Mr Ellwood responded: “Unless we have a UN resolution, it is very hard to march forward. I am afraid that, on more than one occasion, either China or Russia has vetoed attempts to move this situation forward. I also disagree with her about the choice between ISIS or Assad. We have never made that statement—quite the opposite, in fact.
“This is a crisis caused and fuelled by the Assad regime, which is responsible for the vast majority of deaths. Almost 90% of the civilian deaths are a result of the regime’s indiscriminate bombing, its shelling of urban areas, its siege tactics and its use of chemical and toxic substances. This instability has fuelled a migration crisis that affects neighbouring countries, the wider region and Europe as well.
“Assad’s failure to recognise the Sunni people, who make up two thirds of the country’s population, has acted as a recruiting sergeant for ISIL. Today, ISIL poses a threat not just to the region but wider afield to the UK as well.
“The ultimate solution both to the migration crisis and the threats emanating from Syria is a political transition that involves a mechanism for Assad to step down. It is for the Syrian people to decide exactly how that happens.
“The UK supports the efforts of the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who faces a complex and challenging task. The UN Security Council and the wider international community must support Mr de Mistura’s efforts as he works with the Syrian parties to deliver a political process that brings about an inclusive transition.
“We call on Russia to cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on ISIL.
“There has been talk of safe or protected zones, no-fly zones and so on, but history tells us that implementing genuinely safe zones is difficult and must be accompanied by an international mandate that would provide the will, the authority and the full means to ensure that they have a chance of being effective. It would also involve significant military commitment. As we have seen, that can be hard to come by from the various Parliaments across the world.”
It seems clear that the predictions of mainstream media outlets like the Graun, which stated, “it would be a huge blow to the leader’s authority if a vote was passed with the backing of a sizable number of Labour MPs,” were overexaggerated, to say the least.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this is that Ms Cox’s legitimate anger – against the Conservative Government’s failure to act appropriately in response to the situation in Syria – was neutralised by its association with the elements of her speech that the minister could answer.
So – a damp squib rather than the bombshell against Jeremy Corbyn that some of us were led to expect.
No doubt the media (and other political parties) will continue their attempts to pressurise the Labour leadership, but on this evidence it seems Jeremy Corbyn has little to fear.
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