Tim Farron – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

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Below is the text of the speech made by Tim Farron, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

As has been mentioned already, the spectre of the 2003 Iraq war hangs over the debate in this House and in the whole country. In 2003, the late and very great Charles Kennedy led the opposition to the Iraq war and he did so proudly. That was a counterproductive and illegal war, and Daesh is a consequence of the foolish decision taken then. Charles Kennedy was also right, however, in calling, in the 1990s, for military intervention in Bosnia to end a genocide there. I am proud of Charles on both counts.

My instincts, like those of others, are always to be anti-war and anti-conflict. In many cases, the automatic instinct will be that we should react straightaway and go straight in. Others will say that under no terms, and not in my name, should there ever be intervention. It is right to look at this through the prism of what is humanitarian, what is internationalist, what is liberal, what is right and what will be effective. I set out five principles that I have put to the Prime Minister. I will not go into all of them here, with the time I have available, but they are available on the website and people can go and have a look at them. My very clear sense is that any reasonable person would judge them to have been broadly met.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con):

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, he and his party supported airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq and that today’s vote is about extending those airstrikes across the border that Daesh itself does not recognise, into Syria, to degrade Daesh as far as possible?

Tim Farron:

I am happy to confirm that.

For me, and probably for many other Members, this has been one of the toughest decisions, if not the toughest decision, I have had to take in my time in this place. The five principles that we have set out have been broadly met, but I will not give unconditional support to the Government as I vote with them tonight. There are huge questions on the financing of Daesh by states such as Turkey, with the trade that is going on there. There are huge questions on the protection of civilians. Yes, a ceasefire, as discussed in Vienna, is the ultimate civilian protection, but we absolutely must continue to press for safe zones to be established in Syria. I continue to be very concerned about the lack of political and state involvement, notwithstanding what the King of Jordan said overnight, by close-by regional states, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. I continue to be concerned about our failure to take our fair share of refugees, as part of the overall EU plan. I welcome what the Prime Minister said earlier, but I want a lot more than just “looking into” taking 3,000 orphan children from refugee camps. I want them here in Britain.

Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP):

I am very grateful to the Liberal Democrat leader for giving way. Given that he has pressed so hard for the Government to take more refugees, why is he content to bomb that country when the Prime Minister has refused to give that assurance? This is ridiculous.

Tim Farron:

I will come to that in a moment. The reality is that this is a very tough—an incredibly tough—call.

A final point I wanted to press the Prime Minister on concerns the funding of Daesh from within UK sources. I am very pleased to hear that there will now be a full public and open inquiry. It must cut off that which fuels this evil, evil death cult.

This is the toughest call I have ever had to make, certainly in this House. What pushes me in the direction of voting for action is, above all, United Nations resolution 2249, which calls for us to eradicate the safe haven that Daesh has in Syria. The resolution does not just permit, but urges this country and all members capable of doing so, to take all necessary action to get rid of Daesh. If we had just been asked to bomb Syria, I would be voting no: I would be out there demonstrating in between speeches and signing up to emails from the Stop the War coalition. This is not, however, a case of just bombing; this is standing with the United Nations and the international community to do what is right by people who are the most beleaguered of all. I was so proud and moved to tears when I watched at Wembley the other week English fans singing La Marseillaise—probably very badly indeed, but doing it with gusto—and standing shoulder to shoulder with our closest friends and allies. How could we then not act today, when asked to put our money where our mouth is?

What has really pushed me into the position where I feel, on balance, that we have to back military action against Daesh is my personal experiences in the refugee camps this summer. I cannot pretend not to have been utterly and personally moved and affected by what I saw. I could give anecdote after anecdote that would break Members’ hearts, but let me give just one in particular. A seven-year-old lad was lifted from a dinghy on the beach at Lesbos. My Arabic interpreter said to me, “That lad has just said to his dad, ‘Daddy are ISIL here? Daddy are ISIL here?’” I cannot stand in this House and castigate the Prime Minister for not taking enough refugees and for Britain not standing as tall as it should in the world, opening its arms to the desperate as we have done so proudly for many, many decades and throughout our history, if we do not also do everything in our power to eradicate that which is the source of the terror from which people are feeling.

We are absolutely under the spectre of a shocking, illegal and counterproductive war in Iraq. It is a lesson from history that we must learn from. The danger today is that too many people will be learning the wrong lessons from history if we choose not to stand with those refugees and not to stand as part of the international community of nations. This is a very tough call, but on balance it is right to take military action to degrade and to defeat this evil death cult.