Jeremy Corbyn should allow Labour MPs to vote in favour of expanding British military strikes against Isis from Iraq into Syria, Dan Jarvis has said.
David Cameron is expected to soon ask parliament to approve the extension of the RAF campaign. Corbyn has expressed deep misgivings about new military strikes. But a substantial number of his MPs want to support the prime minister. Several shadow cabinet minister are also seen as being in favour.
Speaking at a Labour conference fringe event hosted by The Huffington Post UK this afternoon, Jarvis said Labour MPs should not be whipped into supporting one view or another.
"I think it's right that individual Labour MPs scrutinise this proposal, apply their own judgement. On a matter such a this, a matter of conscience, I think its right that every Labour MP be allowed to have their say based on their own conscience and on their own views," he said.
Jarvis, who has in the past been briefed, alongside Harriet Harman, on current military operations in Syria by the prime minister, said it was a "difficult judgement" whether or not to expand airstrikes. He said it was "for the government to make the case" that RAF raids should be increased.
The Barnsley MP who served in the British Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan was spoken of as a potential leadership candidate after Ed Miliband resigned. However he decided against standing, in part to be able to spend enough time with his children.
In his speech to the conference today, shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn did not indicate how the party leadership would approach the vote.
However he said the world had a "moral duty to act" to try and bring the Syrian civil war to an end and branded it the "great humanitarian crisis of our age".
Corbyn has been under pressure to grant his MPs a free vote when it is brought to the Commons, allowing those in favour of strikes to vote to approve strikes without formally splitting the party.
Diane Abbott, the new shadow international development secretary, told the conference: "I will be voting against bombing Syria." While shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer has previously said strikes "should" take place provided there was a proper legal basis.
Jarvis also told the HuffPost event that it was important Britain remain a member of Nato. Corbyn has previously said he believed the Western alliance should have been wound-up in the 1990s.
Jarvis said: "Nato has underpinned our security for a generation, it is incredibly important we are a part of that."
And he agreed that the party should not be focusing on whether or not to renew Britain's nuclear weapons. Asked whether it was not a priority, he said: "Yes."
Jarvis also said while it was "important and legitimate to have a debate about the impact" of the Iraq War on that country and the wider Middle East, it would be "prudent" of Corbyn to wait until the Chilcot inquiry into the war was published before thinking about issuing an apology.
"This is a very personal thing for me, I often reflect back about whether it was the right thing or wrong thing," he said of the war.
"We should be very clear about the fact that we sent thousands of young people, men and women, to fight in Iraq... we should be really proud of he fact that people went and did that."
He added: ""It would be prudent to wait for John Chilcott to report before making an apology for what happened."
A Survation poll for The Huffington Post published on Monday morning showed a majority of Labour voters do not believe Corbyn should apologise for the war.
Jarvis also spoke personally about his time in the military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Many of my friends, tragically, were killed. That's incredibly difficult to deal with you’ve got to find your own way through it," he said.
He also recounted the occasion when he had to lead then prime minister Tony Blair to find a military helicopter during the Nato intervention in Kosovo. He recalled leading Blair "through a muddy wood" and over a "barbed wire fence" after the first helicopter put on for the prime minister had left too early.
Jarvis said his superior officer, General Mike Jackson, had turned to him after witnessing the incident: "Thank God it wasn’t the queen."