Following the Prime Minister’s decision to authorise air strikes in Syria over the weekend, Parliament had the chance to debate the Prime Minister’s actions. I spoke about how the chemical weapons attach on innocent civilians was a brutal and barbaric act, that Parliament should have had a say in the action and that I refuse to allow our country’s foreign policy to be determined by Vladimir Putin.
Stephen Kinnock: Last weekend’s chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians in Douma was a brutal and barbaric act. Seventy-five people, including children, have died. More than 500 have been treated for symptoms of nerve agent poisoning. This outrage clearly breached the Geneva protocol of 1925 and the 1993 chemical weapons convention. Only Assad has helicopters and barrel bombs. His culpability can be in no doubt. It was at least the ninth time that Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people, and he chose to use chemical weapons in Douma specifically to target civilians. This was a war crime that led to unimaginable humanitarian suffering, death and destruction. Such barbarity cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
There should, of course, be a UN investigation, but that is impossible because the Russian Government continue to veto any attempts by the Security Council, and the Syrian regime is now preventing the OPCW from entering Douma. The Syrian regime is responsible for this chemical weapons attack, and its sponsors in the Kremlin are complicit, not only because of their support for Assad and his brutal regime but because of their relentless work to undermine the ability of international institutions to function properly, thereby rendering effective diplomatic action impossible.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment that it was absolutely right for the Prime Minister to take this action. It is not only Assad who is using chemical weapons in Syria; he is being propped up very much by the Russians. We need to send a message to Assad and the Russians that chemical weapons are just not acceptable.
Stephen Kinnock: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is a universal message that needs to be sent to all those brutal dictators who may be considering going down this route.
With the Kremlin effectively dismantling the diplomatic route, we are left with no option but to apply military force. It pains me to say this, but the sad reality is that the future of Syria is in the hands of the Kremlin, Iran and the Assad regime. However, that does not mean that we have no agency or that we should allow the international norms around the prohibition of chemical weapons to wither on the vine. That is why it was right to act in the name of humanitarian concerns and assert the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. But Parliament should have had a say. That has been the way we have operated in this place for over a decade.
The dispute about parliamentary authorisation reveals the shortcomings of a convention-based constitutional system. The Leader of the Opposition is therefore right that we should have a war powers Act. Of course, the devil will be in the detail. Such an Act must not be so loose as to allow the Government to do anything, but it must not be so tight as to bind the hands of the Government and those on the frontline to the extent that it would become an impossibly high bar to pass.
The costs of non-intervention are clear. Non-intervention would equate to a tacit approval of the abhorrent use of chemical weapons. A targeted strike on the installations that enable the use of chemical weapons not only degrades the Syrian capacity to deliver and use chemical weapons again, but sends a signal that their use will not be tolerated. We must therefore be steadfast and consistent. We must also do more to support those who have fled Syria to escape this barbarity, and step up to fulfil our obligations to address the refugee crisis.
My party has a proud history of standing up for the most vulnerable. We led the world to intervene in Kosovo to prevent genocide, understanding that the Russian veto precluded the UN route at that time. The Labour party is not a pacifist party. Indeed, it was a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was the driving force behind establishing NATO. I am truly proud of the Labour party’s role, 60 years ago almost to the day, in the signing of the treaty of Brussels. We are a party that understands that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men—and, indeed, women—to do nothing. We understand the costs of non-intervention, just as we appreciate and learn from the costs of intervention. Where would we be if pacifists had been in charge in 1939?
If the only intervention that we contemplate is that with UN Security Council approval, we will be allowing the Kremlin to dictate our foreign policy. I refuse to allow my country or my party to be held hostage by Vladimir Putin. I will always uphold the fine history of my party, which is to be ready, willing and able to intervene, and to shoulder our responsibility to protect.