While the effects of the military action against Daesh (the so-called Islamic State group, or ISIL) may be unclear for some time, the decision is still proving highly divisive at home – especially for the Labour Party.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who opposed the Government’s proposals, gave his party a free vote on the issue, and 66 of his MPs backed the air strikes.
Among North Staffordshire’s four Labour MPs, two (Ruth Smeeth and Tristram Hunt) voted in favour of David Cameron’s motion, while Rob Flello and Paul Farrelly voted against.
Dr Hunt said it was his ‘firm conviction’ that extending air strikes to Syria was in the best interests of the country.
He said: “ISIL represents the greatest concentration of evil in the modern world. The recent horrific events in Paris have demonstrated that we can no longer stand by and allow ISIL a safe haven from which to attack our allies and plot terror attacks on the streets of the UK.
“With backing for military action from the United Nations, and after a direct appeal from our French allies, I believe that Britain has an obligation to join the international efforts to defeat them.”
Mr Farrelly said that following the Paris attacks he had been torn between his head and his heart on the issue of air strikes in Syria.
But ultimately decided that the Government’s case for extending British military action was unconvincing.
He said: “My heart found it tough to answer, ‘What would the decision be, had it been London or elsewhere over here?’
“My head said that in a multi-sided civil war, with ISIL-Daesh dug into populated Raqqa, no political accord on the ground and Cameron magicking a mythical, spare 70,000 moderate Sunni fighters out of thin air, that there was no real strategy.”
Although Mr Farrelly’s decision put him on the same side of the debate as his leader, he believes Mr Corbyn failed to show leadership on the issue.
He said that without a change in leadership Labour would face electoral defeat once again in 2020.
Mr Farrelly added: “Rather than trying to unite, he just divides. It has been an abject display and we certainly cannot win a general election, sadly, with him at the helm.”
Mrs Bruce was among 30 Conservative MPs who voted against the Government’s proposals to attack the Assad regime in Syria two years ago.
But this time she spoke in favour of the military action during the 10-hour debate in the House of Commons.
She said: “Although in an ideal world no right-thinking person would advocate military action, we do not live in an ideal world – far from it. We and our constituents live with the very real, present and vicious threat of the evil ideology of ISIL, whose ultimate aim is nothing less than to destroy civilised society as we know it.
“The motion asks for authority for military action – air strikes – exclusively against ISIL in Syria in order to defend the UK and prevent terrorist acts by ISIL.
“Can anyone doubt that this is a just cause?” But Bulent Gokay, Professor of International Relations at Keele University, does not believe the UK’s military action in Syria will make much difference, in terms of either defeating Daesh or improving security at home.
He said: “I think the Government’s proposals are quite weak in terms of practical application and the expected consequences.
“Simply extending bombing from Iraq to Syria won’t be very effective. Daesh have been expecting this and so a lot of their bases are underground, and they don’t travel in big convoys. This means there are not many targets.
“I wouldn’t want to make a connection between the action in Syria and any terrorist attacks in the UK. There are always going to be some people who will consider terrorist action here. But in the short or medium term I can’t see the air strikes making us more secure either. It won’t make any serious difference.
“I think the peace talks in Vienna may be more significant. We need an end to the civil war in Syria. If that doesn’t happen, we may be able to defeat Daesh, but another group will replace them.”
The first British operation in Syria involved RAF Tornados carrying out strikes against six targets on an oilfield at Omar, which the Government said provided 10 per cent of Daesh’s potential income.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “We have come to the aid of France and responded to the call of the United Nations. This will take time but I am very pleased that a clear and decisive majority was attained to target the group, which is a menace to us here in the UK.
“The terrorists depend for their revenue on the control of oil. Cutting off their finances is extremely important.”
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