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MP's take on crucial Syrian debate in Parliament
4:56pm Friday 30th August 2013 in Local
David Cameron ruled out UK involvement in military action against Syria after a defeat on the issue in the Commons yesterday. A motion backing the use of force “if necessary” in response to last week’s deadly chemical weapons attack was rejected by 272 votes to 285 – a majority of 13. About 30 Tory rebels joined Labour to defeat the motion. In this exclusive article, Wyre Forest MP Mark Garnier describes the debate in the House and explains why he voted with the Government motion for intervention.
A DECADE ago the House of Commons met to debate military intervention in Iraq.
Back then I had just started to take an active interest in politics. I had just been approved as a candidate for the Conservatives, but I had yet to be selected as the Wyre Forest candidate.
Evidence was presented to the House of Commons that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, deployable in 45 minutes. The decision was taken with opposition Conservative support to take action.
I was incredibly uncomfortable with my party’s support. I felt that the case had not been made. For me, this was a deeply profound moment.
For the first time I fully realised the significance of the career path I was taking. How, if I were an MP at the time of that debate, would I have voted? I spent a many, many quiet moments over the years thinking through the implications of a single MP’s decision. It is for this reason that the current Syria situation has, for me, special significance.
But if I were profoundly moved by the Iraq episode, it had serious consequences for the public.
I paraphrase the Prime Minister’s speech in saying that the well of public confidence for politicians to make the right decisions and to speak the truth was utterly and completely poisoned by the behaviour of Tony Blair and his cabinet and advisors. Over 100,000 civilians and nearly 200 British troops died as a result of that day in Parliament. It is completely understandable that the public looks at the Syria issue with grave scepticism.
Ever since we were misled with dodgy dossiers, I have formed a simple view on our role in the world. It is right that we as a sophisticated nation with resources will step in to help with humanitarian aid, including in the case of war.
But it will never be right that we take a wider objective of regime change. It is simply wrong that we try to superimpose our values on another nation. Our cultures are different; our view on the world likewise. Who are we in the west to dictate to other nations how they should run their countries.
Because of this I – and many colleagues on both sides of the House – was looking for a number of assurances.
Simply, what guarantees can be given that the mission being debated was not going to creep to a wider agenda: how could the PM assure us that the support of civilians who had been the victims of an international war crime on no fewer than 14 occasions (including the most recent) was guaranteed to be the limit of the mission?
Importantly, how could the PM assure us that intervention would not lead to greater atrocities – not lesser?
But in answering we have to remember that there are already 100,000 dead and over two million displaced refugees. Is it the case that Assad is testing what he can get away with? Is it possible that by simply sabre-rattling in the West, we can demonstrate that we will take action and in so doing avert further attocities?
But what of our wider place in the world? Would intervention in Syria by a Western power or powers lead to further splits between our cultures?
Would our intervention, even on a humanitarian basis, stir up more risk for our citizens from terrorists or would the intervention be seen by the Muslim world as a welcome intervention?
The debate covered many themes: what would success look like? If we intervene for humanitarian reasons, why are we not already providing more support for refugees?
How do we deal with the UN paradox that sees UN agreement as essential for legal intervention, yet impossible given the Russian veto?
Is the vote that is taken after the debate one that does not commit this country to direct action, even in a secondary way?
But in a very powerful speech by my colleague Ben Gummer, the ghost of Iraq was raised yet again.
The whole debate was overshadowed by the appalling misleading of Parliament 10 years ago.
Ben asked the most important question: Has being misled to make the wrong decision a decade ago meant that Parliament is frightened to make the right decision now?
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