James Heappey – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

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

On three occasions, I left my family and boarded a plane bound for Afghanistan or Iraq. As the plane went through the clouds, I took what could have been my final look out of the window at this country. When you do that, you cannot help wondering whether the people who have stood in this place have made the right decision, whether the nation is with you, and whether what you are going to do is worthwhile.

Today, I rise to contribute to that decision-making process, and I can tell the House that the responsibility weighs heavily on my shoulders. However, I am certain that the motion should be supported. It clearly states that the continuation of airstrikes in Syria is just one part of the solution that is required to defeat Daesh, and to secure a peace both there and in Iraq. Bombing, diplomacy, aid, and countering radicalisation at home and abroad are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, we have surely seen that they are utterly interdependent. Today, we must decide on whether to take military action, and I want to speak briefly about four themes in support of that action.

First, we are being asked to join a coalition—a coalition of our closest allies and some of our most important partners in the region—and we must answer their call. Secondly, our contribution does enhance the capability of the coalition. Difficult targets present themselves only fleetingly, and prosecuting those targets requires constant air cover involving highly skilled pilots and deadly accurate munitions. Our Royal Air Force offers that. Thirdly, there is the necessity for indigenous ground manoeuvre. In Basra, my battle group was fighting an insurgency that existed almost entirely because we were there. The 70,000 Syrians and 20,000 Kurds under arms could, and should, become a cohesive and capable force, but the bombing campaign will buy the time for them to be manoeuvred into the place where we need them to be, so that we can co-ordinate their efforts in support of the airstrikes.

It is, of course, important to note that those airstrikes degrade Daesh in the meantime. They have a military effect of their own. It is clear to me from today’s debate—this is my final point—that the House agrees on the ends that we seek to achieve, and that most of us agree on the means by which we seek to achieve them, diplomatic, humanitarian and military. The disagreement is on when, and in what order. I say from personal experience that when we are trying to buy time in a combat zone, we need to suppress the enemy. We need to keep their head down, and deny them any freedom of action. Nothing in a combat zone is perfect—the timing is never right—but we must get on with this, because we are required to do to help the Syrian people.