David Cameron has started the countdown to UK military action in Syria with a Commons motion designed to appeal directly to Labour MPs.
The Prime Minister won the backing of his Cabinet for his 12-point motion on a 'broader strategy', which seeks to answer MPs’ worries about mission creep, military strategy, UN authorisation, the diplomatic process and humanitarian and reconstruction costs.
In a bid to move quickly to allow the RAF to start bombing ISIL strongholds as soon as possible, Mr Cameron also announced that he was tearing up the usual Commons business on Wednesday, ditching Prime Minister’s Questions in favour of a ten and half hour debate.
The motion – 236 words long – has been drafted to mirror almost exactly Labour’s recent party conference motion which set key tests for any military action.
Downing Street released the motion as it said that more than 20 ministers spoke in an hour-long Cabinet meeting that approved the move towards RAF airstrikes.
Ministers discussed whether airstrikes would increase or decrease the direct threat to the UK from the Islamist terrorists. "It's clear the UK is already facing a severe threat," No10 said.
Asked if there were any ‘dissenting voices’ at Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman replied: “There was very clear support for taking action against ISIL. I noted over 20 speakers during the discussion being clear on their support.
“All the Cabinet are clear of the two really important issues to have clear in mind: one is the very severe threat posed to this country by ISIL and the need to go after it in its heartlands where it is plotting against the UK.
“The second is to be realistic about the complexity of the situation in Syria and the sustained hard work we need to go into in Vienna and the political process and in the humanitarian effort and stabilisation.”
But when asked if the Prime Minister’s most controversial claim – that there were 70,000 ‘moderate’ ground troops in Syria – she replied: “It was not a point that was really debated or discussed by Cabinet."
The motion, which MPs will vote on tomorrow, reads:
That this house notes that ISIL poses a direct threat to the United Kingdom; welcomes United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 which determines that ISIL constitutes an ‘unprecedented threat to international peace and security’ and calls on states to take ‘all necessary measures’ to prevent terrorist acts by ISIL and to ‘eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria’; further notes the clear legal basis to defend the UK and our allies in accordance with the UN Charter; notes that military action against ISIL is only one component of a broader strategy to bring peace and stability to Syria; welcomes the renewed impetus behind the Vienna talks on a ceasefire and political settlement; welcomes the Government’s continuing commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees; underlines the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction in Syria; welcomes the Government’s continued determination to cut ISIL’s sources of finance, fighters, and weapons; notes the requests from France, the US and regional allies for UK military assistance; acknowledges the importance of seeking to avoid civilian causalities; using the UK’s particular capabilities; notes the Government’s will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; welcomes the Government’s commitment to provide quarterly progress reports to the House; and accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government in taking military action, specifically airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria; and offers its wholehearted support to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
Jeremy Corbyn today condemned 'the rush to war', and had demanded a delay in the vote and a two-day debate.
But No.10 pointed out that last year's Commons debate authorising RAF strikes on ISIL in Iraq had lasted seven and a half hours and the Commons spent only two hours 45 minutes debating military action against the Falklands.