Last night I voted with the Government to send a clear message that the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated. The shocking pictures from Damascus of mass casualties and victims of the attack – including children - convulsing and struggling to breathe were horrific and utterly repugnant.
Where there has been such a gross breach of international law, I don’t believe we can simply sit on our hands.
This isn’t about Britain being an ‘international policeman’ or harking back to some bygone imperial view of the world. Rather, it is about preventing further immediate use of chemical weapons, providing direct humanitarian assistance and alleviating the suffering of innocent Syrian civilians. It is also about our own national security in deterring the potential use of chemical weapons by others in the future.
I recognise the anxiety caused by the prospect of any use of military force. I am no hawk and it is right that any decision which would put our service personnel at risk or which could result in civilian casualties must be lawful and only be taken after careful consideration and analysis. International agreement should be sought and alternative options advanced. Any military operations should also be proportionate to the need and have a defined objective and outcome. I believe that the Government’s approach reflected these requirements.
The assessment provided by the independent Joint Intelligence Committee on the events of 21 August in Damascus was telling. Their view – based largely on open source rather than secret material - was that there was little doubt that a chemical weapons attack had occurred in Damascus and that it was “highly likely” that the Assad regime was responsible. In a key section of their report they noted that:
“There is no credible intelligence or other evidence to substantiate the claims or the possession of CW by the opposition. The JIC has therefore concluded that there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility”
The Attorney General – the Government’s chief legal adviser – had also set out that there was a clear legal basis to support a proportionate military response on humanitarian grounds.
The Government’s motion acknowledged the need to take account of the work done by the weapons inspectors and the need to respect the UN process. It was also clear that any actual deployment of British military assets to prevent further immediate use of chemical weapons in Syria would require a second vote of MPs.
That’s why I felt it was right to support the Government in sending an unequivocal message to the Assad regime that they would be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians.
However, that was not the view of Parliament. MPs and - if we are honest - the public were not sufficiently persuaded that Britain should use military force. It is right that the will of Parliament is respected and the Prime Minister has been clear that the Government will act accordingly. It is also right that through the UN and alongside our allies we must condemn in the strongest terms the horrific events in Damascus - holding those responsible to account - whilst providing support to innocent Syrians who continue to suffer grievously as a result of the ongoing conflict.