48 HOURS FROM WAR IN SYRIA?
MPs to vote on air strikes after Corbyn caves in to rebels
BRITAIN was last night preparing to start bombing Islamic State in Syria within 48 hours. After a day of huge drama at Westminster, the Prime Minister announced MPs will vote on military action tomorrow.
The RAF is now readying Tornado fighter jets and Typhoon Eurofighters to launch the first strikes against IS fanatics within hours if – as now seems almost certain – Parliament votes in favour.
David Cameron said he believed there was growing support among MPs ‘ to answer the call from our allies to act against Isil in Syria and Iraq’.
He added: ‘It is in the national interest, it is the right thing to do. We will be careful and responsible as we do so – but in my view it’s the right thing to do this to keep our country safe.’
Mr Cameron said the decision to take military action was ‘one of the most serious a Prime Minister can make’ but – in the wake of the Paris attacks – it was clear IS ‘poses a very direct threat to the United Kingdom’.
He took the decision to hold the vote following a day of bedlam in the Labour
Party which left Jeremy Corbyn humiliated and Tory whips finally confident of success.
Yesterday morning, the Labour leader’s allies had warned that – if he gave his MPs a free vote – it would be handing certain victory to Mr Cameron.
Initially it appeared as if Mr Corbyn would stick to his principles and demand Labour MPs vote against military action. The leadership even released an unscientific poll of party members claiming 75 per cent were against bombing raids.
But, amid open revolt and threats of mass resignations, Mr Corbyn eventually caved in at a shadow cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon and offered the free vote. He is now facing recriminations from both the hard-Left – which wanted him to make a stand – and the moderates in his party for his botched handling of the debate.
Labour sources said he was ‘given a kicking’ in the meeting. Up to 100 Labour rebels could vote in favour of military action. Last night, there were indications that the Liberal Democrats might also support bombing.
The free vote means Labour MPs will not now be ordered to vote with the leadership.
But, farcically, Mr Corbyn will begin tomorrow’s crunch debate by making clear his own personal position is to still fiercely oppose air strikes.
Before her leader’s capitulation, Diane Abbott had said: ‘The problem about a free vote is that it hands vic-
tory to Cameron on a plate.’ Last night, some senior Tory MPs were still voicing grave concerns about the military action.
Huge doubt has been cast on Mr Cameron’s claims there are 70,000 Syrian rebels who would be prepared to take the fight to IS.
Andrew Turner said Islamic State would be replaced by another group of ‘criminals’ if the supposedly 70,000 moderate troops are not properly organised.
The Isle of Wight MP said: ‘ We cannot repeat what happened in Libya. It’s not clear whether these factions which the 70,000 Syrian fighters are composed of are organised and prepared to act.’
Fellow Conservative Daniel Kawczynski said there must be co-operation with Russia to stabilise Syria. He warned: ‘Unless there is a competent strategy, it will be a “bat the rat” situation where we defeat them somewhere and they pop up again only too quickly.’
Tory MP Adam Afriyie added that Britain could end up in an unwanted conflict with Russia unless the relationship is managed carefully.
But Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘I am confident that when we bring this matter to a vote in Parliament we will now see a majority of parliamentarians supporting the action.’ Mr Cameron added: ‘It will take time, this whole strategy will take time, but it’s the right thing to do to make sure we go after the terrorists who threaten people in our country just as they attacked and killed those people on the streets of Paris, on the streets on Ankara, on the streets of Beirut and indeed British people on the beaches of Tunisia.’
Last night, senior Labour figures said that – while significant numbers of its MPs might still vote for military action – Mr Cameron had made a ‘huge tactical mistake’.
The party leadership had called for a two- day debate to give all MPs a chance to have their say – and press the PM on what plan he has to defeat Islamic State on the ground. Labour sources hinted that, without the opportunity for a two- day debate, some MPs who supported the principle of air strikes might now vote against or abstain.
Mr Cameron said: ‘We will make sure that we have a very long and full debate on Wednesday and we will take the action necessary to make sure we have, in many ways, the equivalent number of questions we would often have across a twoday debate in one day.
’I want MPs to be able to have full consideration, to make speeches, to make points, to ask me questions, to examine the Government’s case.’
A statement from Mr Corbyn’s office said the shadow cabinet had ‘decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two- day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision’. Labour ‘agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing’, including how it would bring about a negotiated settlement in Syria and which ground troops would seize territory vacated by IS.
Last night, Jeremy Corbyn claimed the Prime Minister was engaged in a ‘rush to war’.
A spokesman said: ‘By refusing a full two- day debate, David Cameron is demonstrating he knows the debate is running away from him, and that the case he made last week is falling apart.
‘The Prime Minister should stop the rush to war to allow for a full discussion of the issues.’
‘Very long and full debate’