Mary Creagh – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

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

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), although I disagree with the position he takes. I pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the hon. and gallant Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) for their thoughtful speeches, and also to my right hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), with whom I agree entirely.

This is one of the most important decisions an MP can make, and it is not one I have taken lightly. As a Labour MP, I believe we have to choose and shape Britain’s place in the world if we are to create a world in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. ISIL poses a clear threat to Britain. Thirty British holidaymakers were murdered on the beach in Tunisia in July, and we know that seven ISIL-related terror attacks against British people have been stopped in the past year. Paris could have happened in London.

There is no hope of negotiating with ISIL. We must stop the flow of fighters, finance and arms to its headquarters in Raqqa. We need military action to stop it murdering Syrians and Iraqis, and to disrupt its propaganda machine, which poisons the minds of our young people and leads them to commit appalling acts at home and abroad. For the past 14 months, UK forces have carried out airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq, with no civilian casualties, so for me it makes no sense to turn back our planes at the Syrian border and allow ISIL to regroup in Syria.

In September, as Labour’s shadow International Development Secretary, I visited Lebanon, where 1.5 million Syrian refugees have sought sanctuary. One in four people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. The Department for International Development has made a huge contribution to the aid effort there, opening up Lebanese schools to Syrian children so that they can continue their education and have some form of normality after witnessing the horrors of that war.

I met Iman, a 65-year-old grandmother from Aleppo, who was imprisoned by President Assad for two weeks when she bravely returned from Lebanon to Syria, after her son was killed, to rescue her five orphaned grandchildren. She lives in a shack made of breeze blocks in the port city of Sidon. Hadia told me how her husband, a Red Cross volunteer, was killed in Syria, and how her four older children are still trapped in Homs. She did not want to go to Germany under a resettlement programme, because she could not take her elderly mother with her and did not want to leave her alone to die in a camp. I met Ahmed from Raqqa and 10-year-old girls working in the fields as agricultural labourers—their childhoods stolen from them—after ISIL had taken over their town, although that is still better than staying in Raqqa and being enslaved there.

There is a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria: 250,000 people have been killed, there are 4.7 million refugees outside the country and 6 million have been internally displaced.

George Kerevan:

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mary Creagh:

I will not. I want other Members to have the chance to speak, as we have all been waiting to do.

The UK has given aid to Jordan and Syria, but aid is not the answer to the problems of Syria. Peace is the answer, and we need a fresh diplomatic effort to bring peace to that country. The Vienna talks offer real hope of that, with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran all around the table for the first time.

We voted against action in 2013, after the sarin gas attacks—a vote I regret and now believe to be wrong. We now have the largest refugee crisis since world war two. The war in Syria has no end and no laws, and ISIL is expanding its caliphate there. We have had no strategy for Syria, and now we have no easy choices. We need a ceasefire, a political settlement and a path to democratic elections, which is why I shall support the Government tonight.