Many people in Bristol West have contacted me recently about the recent brutal attack on civilians in Syria and the UK’s response.
The bombing in Douma on 7 April that resulted in the deaths through chlorine gas of innocent civilians, including children, was horrific and those responsible must be held to account. I fully support the investigation being carried out into the attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). I want the inspectors to be allowed to do their work unhindered and I hope that President Assad and his allies give the OPCW every co-operation so that this is possible.
In 2015, the United Nations established a joint UN/OPCW inquiry into responsibility for toxic gas attacks. The inquiry found that the Syrian government had used the nerve agent sarin and had several times used chlorine as a weapon. It also found Islamic State used mustard gas. That inquiry ended in November 2017 after Russia blocked three attempts by the Security Council to renew its mandate. The use of chemical weapons is a particularly shocking war crime and that is why the international community long ago agreed to ban their use.
On the military action taken in response, I was very worried beforehand that it might lead to a wider conflict with Russia although it seems to have been carefully targeted at chemical weapons facilities and caused no casualties. We will see if it is effective or not in deterring the Syrian regime from further use of chemical weapons, but I am very strongly of the view that before authorising any UK military action, the Government should have consulted Parliament first – a point Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs made directly to the Prime Minister when she made her statement in the House of Commons. Parliament was given a say on UK military action in Syria in 2013 and 2015. I believe this convention must now be enshrined in law and have been calling for this for some time.
There are only victims in the war in Syria – the 400,000 or so people who have been killed, those who have been injured, and the more than half the population who have been forced to flee their homes.
That is why the humanitarian priorities must be for ceasefire, aid delivered to the people in Syria, help getting people out of Syria and a full and effective shared global response to refugees. As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, my focus is on building support amongst MPs for the UK to take a greater role in responding to refugees, challenging the government on their inadequate response and working with refugee organisations to coordinate campaigning to improve this response.
To that end, I have met with colleagues, the refugee sector and the Immigration Minister in the last week to challenge the government to take more refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the world where there is conflict. I challenged the Prime Minister on the UK’s response to the refugee crisis at the first available opportunity and will continue to do so.
Syrian people desperately need an end to the killing on all sides.
This will only come through a renewed international effort to achieve a ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement under the UN. Unfortunately, the problem is not a shortage of UN resolutions. There is a long list of draft UN Security Council resolutions that have been vetoed, or threatened with veto, or the resolutions on Syria that have been passed, including at least three that have called for a ceasefire.
President Assad is determined to pursue his war to the bitter end, supported by Russia and Iran, regardless of the cost to his citizens, who he has been bombing relentlessly. This has to end. There are also many other players involved in the war, which does not help the situation. If all national and international parties turned their energy to peace negotiations, this would truly give hope to the people of Syria.
I will continue to challenge the government, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and everyone else who can influence this outcome to do everything they can to end the war.