Since Thangam's original post was written in October (see below), the following things have changed:
- 130 people were killed in attacks on Paris (13 November); 43 people were killed in attacks on Beirut (12 November); and hundreds have been killed in Syria. Thousands more have fled.
- The UN Security Council unanimously called on member states to use all necessary measures to prevent and suppress terrorist attacks committed by ISIL/Da’esh (20 November).
- The Prime Minister submitted a 36-page memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (26 November) proposing air strikes against ISIL/Da’esh in Syria and diplomatic action. You can read the memorandum here.
- Jeremy Corbyn has decided to give Labour MPs a free vote in any vote on the Prime Minister’s proposals (30 November).
Thangam is currently recovering from a major operation as part of her treatment for breast cancer. She will therefore not be able to participate in any votes over the next few weeks. Usually, when votes are whipped (so Labour MPs all vote together) she would be ‘paired’, so that her absence would not affect the overall result. In a free vote she will not. In both situations the House of Commons records her as abstaining because their records do not differentiate between absence and abstention.
If Thangam were able to, she would vote against the current proposals.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet wrote to the Prime Minister this morning to outline Labour concerns and to ask for a two-day debate. We will ensure that Thangam’s views and those of her constituents are made clear to relevant people in the Labour Party in advance of this debate.
Thangam will continue to stay informed as the situation develops. She always welcomes the views of constituents and you can contact her at: email@example.com
Office of Thangam Debbonaire MP
This will be one of the most important and complex issues in the lifetime of this Parliament and I have been carefully considering many briefings, speeches and letters, and consulting widely. The problem is made more complex because developments in the area constantly prompt a change of focus – Russian airstrikes since 30 September, for example.
To end the appalling crisis in Syria I have been asked by constituents to take a number of positions: to support further military action, or to demand we’re never involved in any. In between, I have also been asked to support ‘no-fly zones’, ‘no-bombing zones’ or ‘safe havens’. It is important to be clear that all of these options would involve further military action to enforce. A no-fly zone in particular would be an enormous military undertaking, with significant risks, in light of increased Russian involvement. There is no easy solution. Whatever parliament decides, even if it decides to do nothing, there will be consequences.
I want to be as clear as I can be about my own situation:
- In the absence of any clear view from the Government, we currently have little idea what we might be voting on. I’m not able to give a hypothetical decision on unknown proposals.
- When there are proposals, I will, as any responsible MP should, read them carefully, consult colleagues, read expert briefings from aid organisations, military experts and others, discuss the proposals with colleagues and contribute to a shared and agreed decision by the Parliamentary Labour Party about how we will vote together, if possible. I will be informed by the proposals made by our Leader and our Shadow Foreign Secretary, who both have access to more information than backbench MPs.
- I am still receiving treatment for cancer and am unlikely to be back in Parliament until March 2016. If there is a proposal and a whipped vote during my absence, as a Labour MP I will be ‘paired’ by the Labour Whips office, which means that my absent vote is cancelled out by the arranged absence of a government MP who would have voted the opposite way.
- If a vote takes place from March 2016 I will, of course, be able to take part in the discussions and the vote in person. I will consider the evidence and the concrete proposals presented at that time.
What’s clear is that this crisis has brought into stark relief the importance of our international responsibilities. I believe we have a duty to offer our help to protect people, but in Syria no one has taken responsibility and no one has been protected. Over 240,000 people are dead; nearly half the population are today no longer living where they were when civil war broke out; seven and a half million people are internally displaced; four million have left the country – fleeing both the bloody terror of President Assad and the appalling brutality of ISIL.
Our response must involve much more effective humanitarian and diplomatic or political action, and put Syria’s civilians at the heart of anything we do. I remain unconvinced that any of the current proposals for military action will bring us nearer to the goal of peace and stability in Syria. There are serious parliamentary decisions ahead, but nobody should doubt that inaction is also a decision with serious consequences for Syria.
The crisis is so complex that I could, of course, write much more in response. I’ll try hard to keep the people of Bristol West informed of my activities, and those of the Labour Party, in holding the Government to account as this situation develops.
You may find it helpful to read some of the articles I have found useful recently:
Jo Cox MP and Andrew Mitchell MP, the Observer, October 11:
Peter Ford and Julian Lewis MP, The Guardian:
Hilary Benn MP, shadow Foreign Secretary, following discussion in Shadow Cabinet in response to Jo Cox MP, October 13:
Analysis of the differences between Hilary Benn and Jo Cox positions by Clara Connolly, Human Rights Lawyer and member of Syria Solidarity Movement UK: