POLITICS

Jeremy Corbyn Warns UK Faces Greater Terror Risk If RAF Bombs Syria; Hilary Benn Disagrees

02/12/2015 18:29 GMT | Updated 02/12/2015 18:59 GMT

Jeremy Corbyn has signalled that the UK will become more of a target for terrorist attacks if it joins military action in Syria.

In a clear split with his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, the Labour leader suggested that David Cameron had been warned by security authorities of the greater threat from ISIL from any bombing campaign.

He warned all Labour MPs thinking of backing the airstrikes that they should ‘weigh..carefully’ the prospect of more terrorism being sparked by any RAF airstrikes.

And his spokesman added that Paris and Russia had recently learned the consequences of getting directly involved in Syria.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in France recently, we’ve seen what’s happened to the Russians directly after their own involvement in the Syrian conflict,” hia spokesman said.

But Mr Benn – who said that failing to allow RAF bombing would increase the risk to the UK – was set to close the Syria debate with a radically different view.

His office responded swiftly to the Labour leadership’s claims that Britain could be next after Paris and the Russian airliner downed by ISIL terrorists.

Mr Benn’s spokesman told HuffPost UK: "Daesh have already killed British citizens in Tunisia, blown up Lebanese citizens and anti-war campaigners in Turkey, and murdered journalists.

“They are a threat to all those that do not follow their repugnant creed. Inaction also has a cost in lives because they will continue to target and attack our citizens."

The clash of opinions came as one of Mr Corbyn's closest allies expressed 'regret' for swearing at a fellow MP over the same issue.

HuffPost UK revealed earlier today John Woodcock had on Tuesday night confronted Clive Lewis over his remark 'on their heads be it' if Labour MPs backed military action.

Mr Lewis had told the BBC: "If the war in Syria extends as a conflagration, there are more terrorist atrocities and the war extends with no end, then we will obviously be looking at who voted for this, and when the blame is apportioned, step forward.”

When confronted over his comments, Mr Lewis told Mr Woodcock: "You want to start this, so we will finish it - fuck you!"

Today, Mr Lewis told SkyNews: "In our robust conversation when I felt that I had someone in my face shouting at me I, in a parting shot, said something I regret."

hilary benn corbyn

Mr Corbyn and Mr Benn at Labour conference

Speaking at the opening of the Commons debate, Mr Corbyn made clear that he felt private intelligence briefings would include warnings about the increased terror risk from the UK joining the coalition in Syria.

“The Prime Minister has avoided spelling out to the British people the warnings that he has surely been given about the likely impact of UK air strikes in Syria on the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK,” he said.

“That is something that everyone who backs the Government’s motion should weigh and think about very carefully before we vote on whether or not to send RAF pilots into action over Syria.”

Mr Corbyn said that MPs should ‘think very carefully’ about previous UK military decisions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

“It is critically important that we, as a House, are honest with the British people about the potential consequences of the action that the Prime Minister is proposing today,” he said.

“I am aware that there are those with military experience—Conservative as well as Labour Members—who have argued that extending UK bombing will ‘increase the short-term risks of terrorist attacks in Britain’.”

But Shadow Foreign Minister Pat McFadden hit back at the view that terrorism was the fault of the west. He said such an argument "infantalises" terrorists and adds that terrorists are "fully, not partially" responsible for what they do.

The PM's official spokeswoman rejected Mr Corbyn's claims. "There have been seven plots related to ISIL since November last year that we've managed to disrupt. So we already face that threat. The issue is whether we degrade that threat."

Ken Livingstone sparked uproar last week when he suggested that Tony Blair had received intelligence briefings that the Iraq war would lead to terrorist attacks like 7/7.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said after his speech: “It’s interesting that the Prime Minister has not felt able to answer directly what advice he was given by the security services and intelligence services about whether there would be an increased threat of attack here. He’s avoided doing that. There will be reasons for that.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in France recently, we’ve seen what’s happened to the Russians directly after their own involvement in the Syrian conflict.”

“He’s been unable to answer and give a straight account to the British people about what kind of advice he’s had about the impact of this bombing on the threat of terrorist attacks here in Britain.”

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Labour MPs voted in overwhelming numbers in September 2014 to support airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.

During the debate today, Mr Corbyn refused to say if he would change Labour policy to oppose RAF action in Iraq too.

His spokesman said “Jeremy Corbyn has said publicly that he thinks that [Iraq policy] needs looking at again”, although he stressed that “he’s not pressing that issue” to the party’s NEC or conference.

But he disputed David Cameron’s line that the UK had managed to help a coalition in Iraq take back territory from the Islamists.

“Although it’s different in Iraq, although it has a different legal basis, and it is supported by the Government of Iraq and there are ground forces in Iraq which are legitimate in the sense they are Iraqi government ground forces - there are also other ground forces, Shiite militias which have problems about them. It’s a fact that despite more than 15 months of bombing, not a lot of progress has been made,” the spokesman said.

“The Government is talking about 30% of territory supposedly lost by Isis in that period. I think that’s contested. ISIS has lost territory…it also took the city of Ramadi earlier this year during the bombing campaign. You have to bear in mind the campaign in Iraq isn’t going that well.”

The spokesman denied that bombing Raqqa in Syria would disrupt their ability to plot atrocities overseas.

“Contrary to what is said about everything being concentrated in Raqqa, the leadership of ISIL is believed to be in Mosul in Iraq.

“The nature of ISIS is that it is spread out across the region. ISIS controls Colonel Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte in Libya. We are not talking about a highly concentrated military force. Our experience over 14 years of the war on terror has told us that these things cannot be dealt with in this way.”

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman also said the Labour leader had successfully exposed Mr Cameron’s claim that 70,000 ‘moderate’ ground troops could be relied on in Syria.

“We not talking about Kurdish forces, we are talking about the only forces on the ground that could take that territory are in fact radical Islamist or Salafist groups, and in some cases jihadist groups. Is that what we are talking about if we are talking about success in the fight against ISIS?”

The spokesman admitted that Mr Cameron was on course to win the vote, but said Mr Corbyn had ‘won the argument’ and shown ‘leadership’.

“Given that the Government insists on whipping its MPs...I think it’s expected that the Government is going to win the vote today but it’s lost the argument,” he said.

“Jeremy Corbyn has offered leadership which has been followed by more and more people in his own party, in his own Parliamentary party and in the shadow cabinet and I think you’ll see that demonstrated later today.”