Stephen Twigg – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on a powerful speech. I have reached a different conclusion from him, but he made a powerful case none the less.

May I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I visited Jordan in October, with my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. The visit was arranged by Oxfam so that we could meet Syrian refugees in the Zaatari camp and living in host communities.

I welcome the Government motion’s renewed commitment

“to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees”.

Members from all parts of this House can be proud of the role played by our country, particularly the Department for International Development, alongside civil society, in the humanitarian effort. I also pay tribute to the countries in the region that have welcomed very large numbers of refugees from Syria, notably Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It is vital that we maintain our support for those neighbouring countries, but it is also increasingly important that we focus on the needs of people displaced within Syria itself. It is estimated that just in October about 120,000 Syrians fled their homes in Aleppo, Hama and Idlib. Our support for multilateral organisations such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF is therefore crucial. The International Development Committee is looking at the Syrian refugee crisis and we plan to publish our report in early January. We are examining both the challenges in the region and what more our country can do to help refugees.

The people at the Zaatari refugee camp told us that they wanted to return home to Syria but they live in fear of their own Government and their barrel bombs. That is part of the context of today’s debate. As the Prime Minister said, our debate today is not about whether we want to defeat Daesh—we all want that. The evil actions of that organisation are well documented and have been covered during his debate. The question is: how do we do it? Last year, I supported the decision to join airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq. I agree with those on both sides of today’s argument who have said that our airstrikes have played an important role in helping the Iraqi Government forces and the peshmerga to take territory from Daesh in Iraq. But I also agree with those colleagues on both sides of the House who have said that the situation on the ground in Raqqa is very different from the one in Iraq. I do not necessarily question the 70,000 figure. The issue for me is where those troops are. They are Syrian opposition forces who are typically in other parts of Syria and fighting the Assad regime. It is fanciful to suppose that they will provide a ground force for an operation combined with airstrikes in Raqqa. I am not convinced, therefore, that there is a credible ground force for Raqqa.

After the Prime Minister’s statement last Thursday, I went back to Liverpool, where I met a Syrian doctor who lives there. He expressed the view of many Syrians living in exile when he said that for them the biggest threat comes from Assad. Indeed, the moderate forces that we seem to be relying on are currently bombed by Assad and by Russia. I fear that the lack of ground forces will limit the effectiveness of airstrikes and that the strategy the Prime Minister set out last week of ISIL-first—in other words, Daesh-first—will have the unintended consequence of strengthening the brutal and murderous Assad regime. For those reasons, I will vote against the Government tonight.