Gerald Howarth – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

Below is the text of the speech made by Gerald Howarth in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

No one who has taken part in the debate today has approached it lightly and I think that we would all agree that anyone who suffers recriminations as a result of whatever decision they reach should have the sympathy of the House. There can be no recriminations and we must be free to express our views as we think fit. We are accountable to our constituents for what we say and what we do.

Notwithstanding the enormous media hype about today’s debate, it is not about a decision to go to war. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, this is essentially an extension of the operations we have been carrying out in Iraq since the House decided last year by 524 votes to 43 that the Government should take that action.

It is important to make the point that our intervention in Iraq has been critical. Without that intervention, there is no doubt that ISIL/Daesh would have taken control of the whole country. Had they taken control of Iraq, the consequences for the entire region, let alone us, would have been catastrophic. They would have been in charge of the entire oil output of Iraq and would have caused absolute mayhem. Since we joined the coalition partners in Iraq, at least 30% of the land taken by Daesh has been recovered. The contribution has been worth while and, as so many have said, it clearly makes no sense for Tornado aircraft and the Royal Air Force to have to turn back at the border.

Many people have made the point—most effectively the Prime Minister, if I might say so—about the unique capability that the UK has and that France and the United States have asked us to contribute to this operation. I say to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who is no longer in his place, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), with whom I am normally in agreement but am not on this occasion, that the Brimstone missile is a unique capability that only the United Kingdom can deploy. One other country has it, but the United Kingdom is the only one that currently can deploy it. That missile has been proven to have a precision strike that reduces the likelihood of civilian casualties to a minimum. Of course there will never be a complete absence of civilian casualties, but Daesh is attacking people every day of the week.

It is also important to note that the United Kingdom has some of the most stringent rules of engagement. I know that from personal experience. I was a Defence Minister involved in the Libyan operations and the painstaking extent to which the military and the politicians act to ensure that the target is legitimate, that it is an important military target and that there is an absence of civilians is extraordinary. The House should be under no illusions: there is no cavalier approach to this. I make that point to the wider public as well.

This is a complex issue but there are some simple truths. First, Daesh’s medieval barbarity is a threat to the region and to us. Secondly, the United Nations Security Council has called unanimously on all states to take all necessary measures. Thirdly, we have that unique additional capability to which I have just referred. Fourthly, we are working flat out on the diplomatic front, through the International Syria Support Group, and there is more that could be done, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said. However, Daesh will carry on killing, beheading and raping until we stop them doing it to innocent people, and it would be immoral for us to stand aside.