The United Kingdom voted to extend bombing missions conducted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to Islamic State targets in Syria.
Until now the U.K. limited itself to targeting ISIS in Iraq and previously refused to hit ISIS strongholds in Syria on the grounds that it does not have the necessary authorization from the United Nations or the domestic government.
Members of parliament (MPs) clashed for several hours over the government’s motion to strike ISIS in Syria. Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron made the case to parliament that bombing ISIS in Syria will help to ensure the security of the British people and degrade ISIS’s ability take territory.
Cameron argues there are 70,000 fighters in Syria who oppose ISIS and will be helped by the U.K.’s intervention. The source for this figure is the U.K.’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
Cameron asked the House of Commons:
Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands from where they are plotting to kill British people, or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?
The leader of the Labour Party and socialist MP Jeremy Corbyn attacked Cameron’s plan, telling parliament “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister understands public opposition to his ill-thought-out rush to war is growing – and wants to hold the vote before it slips from his hands.” One hundred and sixty-four Labour MPs voted against the government along with all 56 MPs from the Scottish National Party.
But Corbyn suffered significant embarrassment with 67 of his MPs choosing to back the government. The Labour leader demanded early on in the debate the prime minister apologize for labeling those who opposed bombing in Syria as terrorist sympathizers. Corbyn is all too familiar with the charge after calling Osama bin Laden’s death a tragedy and refusing to condemn IRA atrocities against civilians.
Corbyn’s reputation suffered greatly throughout the lead up to the vote, with many of his MPs threatening to rebel if they were forced to oppose military action in Syria. The Labour leader was eventually compelled to give his MPs free reign to vote with their consciousnesses and against the views of their leadership.
In a sign of the increasingly wide splits developing in the Labour Party between moderates and the hard left leadership the shadow foreign secretary, Hillary Benn, voted to support government rather than back his own leader’s approach to foreign policy.
In total, 397 MPs voted to bomb ISIS in Syria while 233 voted against — a majority of 174. The RAF is expected to begin hitting targets in Syria by the end of the week.
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