Labour Party,  Syria

Labour MPs ready to defy Corbyn on Syria

Is this the Labour party’s (or at least a significant part of it) first step toward reclaiming its soul?

At least 50 Labour MPs are prepared to defy Jeremy Corbyn by backing military action to protect civilians in Syria, it has emerged, as cross-party support grows for a new and comprehensive strategy to end the crisis.

In a clear challenge to the Labour leader’s authority, a group of MPs and peers is ready to work with Conservative colleagues to promote a three-pronged strategy in which military intervention by UK forces would complement fresh humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives.

In a sign of increasing cross-party cooperation over Syria, Tory MP and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, and Labour MP Jo Cox, a former head of policy at Oxfam, have joined forces in support of the plan in an article for the Observer. Corbyn has consistently made it clear he is opposed to British military involvement in Syria.

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They call for more humanitarian support for refugees from both the UK government and EU, urgent diplomatic efforts to bring President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table, and military involvement which has “protection of civilians at the heart of the mission”.

This could include the use of troops to protect new “safe havens” inside Syria, and enforce a “no-fly” or “no bombing zone” to prevent Assad launching further attacks on his own people, as well as moves to hit Islamic State in Syria.

Mitchell and Cox write: “Some may think that a military component has no place in an ethical response to Syria. We completely disagree. It is not ethical to wish away the barrel bombs from the Syrian government when you have the capacity to stop them. The deaths and fear generated by these indiscriminate air attacks are the main drivers of the refugee crisis in Europe. Nor is it ethical to watch when villages are overrun by Isis fighters, who make sex slaves of children and slaughter their fellow Muslims, when we have the capability to hold them back.”

Senior Labour sources say between 50 and 100 of their MPs – including several members of the shadow cabinet – would be ready to back British military action if its ultimate purpose was to protect civilians caught up in a growing humanitarian disaster, rather than merely to extend attacks on Isis into Syria.

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John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, who is joining the all-party parliamentary group, said that MPs must keep an open mind given the human suffering of the Syrian people and the resulting refugee crisis.

“The bottom line is that the killing and the flight of civilians will go on unless the international community can create safe havens in Syria for terrified people who are still being bombed,” he said. “That may well mean greater involvement from air forces to sustain a no-fly zone and will certainly require an end to the hand-wringing over President Putin’s disgraceful deceit in bombing anti-Assad rebels rather than Daesh [Isis].”

Perhaps this vote will have some influence on President Obama’s willingness to help create safe zones in Syria. He seemed to pay a lot of attention to Parliament’s vote against military action in 2013.

Obama directly referred to the vote in Britain, saying that some advisers had advised against a congressional vote after “what we saw happen in the United Kingdom this week, when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the prime minister supported taking action.”

Update: Here is the article by Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and Labour MP Jo Cox:

As two people from different parties, and from different generations and backgrounds, there is a lot we disagree on. But as two people who have both worked for many years at different ends of the humanitarian aid spectrum – as an aid worker and as secretary of state for international development – we agree on one thing: there is nothing ethical about standing to one side when civilians are being murdered and maimed. There was no excuse in Bosnia, nor Rwanda and there isn’t now.

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