Margaret Beckett – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes


Below is the text of the speech made by Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

This debate centres on national security and the safety of our constituents. There will be differences of view within and between every party in this House. In good faith and conscience, Members will reach different conclusions. Anyone who approaches today’s debate without the gravest doubts, reservations and anxieties simply has not been paying attention. We are sent here by our constituents to exercise our best judgment—each our own best judgment. This is a debate of contradictions.

The terms of today’s motion, echoing the UN resolution are stern, almost apocalyptic, about the threat, which is described as

“an unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, the proposal before us amounts to only a relatively minor extension of the action that we are already undertaking. We have been asked to agree to act in both Iraq and Syria, precisely because that is what Daesh does, and its headquarters are in Syria. We have been asked to make a further contribution to an existing international effort to contain Daesh from extending the mayhem and bloodshed that accompany its every move even more widely across the middle east.

Serious questions have been raised, and I respect those who raise them. There is unease about ground forces. There is proper concern about the strategy and endgame, about the aftermath, and about rebuilding. Some say simply that innocent people are more likely to be killed. Military action creates casualties, however much we try to minimise them. Should we, on those grounds, abandon action in Iraq, although we undertake it at the request of the Iraqi Government, and it seems to have made a difference? Should we take no further action against Daesh, which is killing innocent people, and striving to kill more, every day of the week, or should we simply leave that to others? Would we make ourselves a bigger target for a Daesh attack? We are a target; we will remain a target. There is no need to wonder about it—Daesh has told us so, and continues to tell us so with every day that passes. We may as well take it not just at its word but, indeed, at its deeds. It has sought out our fellow countrymen and women to kill, including aid workers and other innocents. Whatever we decide today there is no doubt that it will do so again, nor is the consequence of inaction simply Daesh controlling more territory and land. We have seen what happens when it takes control. The treatment, for example, of groups such as the Yazidis, in all its horror, should surely make us unwilling to contemplate any further extension of Daesh-controlled territory. Inaction too leads to death and destruction.

Quite separately, there are those, not opposed in principle to action, who doubt the efficacy of what is proposed: coalition action which rests almost wholly on bombing, they say, will have little effect. Well, tell that to the Kosovans, and do not forget that if there had not been any bombing in Kosovo perhaps 1 million Albanian Muslim refugees would be seeking refuge in Europe. Tell that to the Kurds in Kobane who, if memory serves, pleaded for international air support, without which they felt they would lose control to Daesh. Tell them in Sierra Leone that military action should always be avoided because there would be casualties. Their state and their peace were almost destroyed. It was British military action that brought them back from the brink.

Of course, that military action took place in conjunction with political and diplomatic activity, and I share the view that it is vital that such activity is substantially strengthened. I was heartened by what the Prime Minister told us today. Our conference called for a United Nations resolution before further action, and we now have a unanimous Security Council resolution. Moreover, that resolution calls on member states in explicit and unmistakeable terms to combat the Daesh threat “by all means” and

“to eradicate the safe haven they have established”

in Iraq and Syria.

Although it speaks of the need to pursue the peace process, the UN resolution calls on member states to act now. Moreover, our French allies have explicitly asked us for such support. I invite the House to consider how we would feel, and what we would say, if what took place in Paris had happened in London and if we explicitly asked France for support and France refused.

George Kerevan:

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab):

I am sorry, no.

These are genuinely extremely difficult as well as extremely serious decisions, but it is the urgings of the United Nations and of the socialist Government in France that, for me, have been the tipping point in my decision to support military action.