Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has set out the case for airstrikes in Syria, arguing it is an extension of MPs approving bombing in Iraq a year ago and that the RAF can hit the hardest and most important terrorist targets.
Mr Fallon told MPs that ISIL is a “very real threat to us in Britain” but that the country was “already in this fight” and the motion MPs will vote on tomorrow means expanding action from Iraq over an “artificial line in the sand” to northern Syria.
At a hearing of Parliament’s Defence Select Committee of MPs in Westminster on the eve of the vote David Cameron hopes to win with a “clear majority”, Mr Fallon made a pitch designed to defy critics being led by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The Cabinet minister told them one-third of the most significant “high-end precision” raids aimed at ISIL in Iraq are being carried out by British pilots in RAF Tornadoes. Sitting alongside Mr Fallon, Lieutenant General Gordon Messenger, the deputy chief of the defence staff, said none of the RAF-led raids in Iraq had led to civilian casualties.
Mr Fallon’s appearance came during a frantic day ahead of the vote on with a defiant Mr Corbyn appearing on the BBC’s Jeremy Vine show to call on his Shadow Cabinet to “think again” about supporting the Government against deep divisions within the parliamentary Labour Party.
In a highly unusual move, his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, will also argue for the strikes when the motion is debated tomorrow.
After the weekly Cabinet meeting, the Government published the wording of the motion against a backdrop of potentially 50 Labour MPs defying their leader - vital in carrying the vote given the Tory slim majority.
Mr Fallon told MPs: “ISIL is a very real threat to us in Britain. The attacks in Paris brought home this evil organisation’s terror to our doorsteps. To those who argue striking ISIL in Syria might make us a target, I reply very simply: we are already a target and we are already in this fight since Parliament approved action in October 2014.
“We now need to act against ISIL In Syria because it is where they are headquartered and they hatch plots against us. Our allies have made clear extending UK operations to Syria would make a difference.
“There is an urgent need for the UK to extend our fight against ISIL in Syria for our own security and to provide vital support to our allies. That does not mean we will compromise our rigorous rules of engagement or our careful selection of targets which have been in place since Parliament gave us approval to strike in Iraq a year ago.”
He added: “Airstrikes alone cannot defeat ISIL. But it can degraded Isil.”
Mr Fallon argued successful strikes would “enhance the prospect of political negotiations” in Syria and “reduce ISIL’s abilities to launch international attacks against us and others”. He argued atrocities in Paris, Beirut and Ankara underlined how the terror threat has “intensified”, pointing to 15 plots last year that had reached 150 already this year.