Skip to main content


Volume 602: debated on Monday 23 November 2015

The United Kingdom is already making a significant contribution to the international counter-ISIL coalition, with strike aircraft, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and in helping to train Iraqi forces. In addition to the intelligence co-operation and border security support we have offered to France, the House will wish to know that yesterday I authorised the use of RAF Akrotiri as a diversion airfield for French aircraft striking in Syria.

Many of us, on all sides of the House, will support the Government as they make the intelligent case for extending the air campaign into Syria, and we reject totally the accusation that such a move would be a gesture. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our allies—not us, our allies—have been diminishing ISIL’s command and control, restricting its ability to move en masse, and restricting its ability to take control of more ground? Is it not time to stop subcontracting our security to our friends?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We should not leave the fight against ISIL to French, American or Australian aircraft. While we are working through the Vienna talks, which aim to help to establish an inclusive transitional government to end the civil war and build more security for the Sunni areas of Syria, that should not either delay or deter us from degrading ISIL in eastern Syria, from where ISIL is directing the war in its region and directly threatening us.

The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that not striking ISIL in its heartland in Syria is like a football team trying to win a match without entering the opposition’s half. Is it not long overdue that we pushed up the pitch and stopped defending our goal line?

Yes. ISIL does not recognise the border between Iraq and Syria, and moves between both while the RAF can currently strike only in Iraq. It is illogical for us to be hitting ISIL targets in Iraq, while not targeting ISIL’s core leadership, its lines of communication and its oil revenue base, which are all to be found in Syria.

20 . What steps is the Secretary of State taking to squeeze ISIL’s supply chain, particularly with regard to munitions and ammunition? ISIL is not just supplied by organisations in the region; countries and establishments outside the region must be supplying ISIL with arms. (902276)

Yes, we are intensifying our effort to cut off ISIL’s sources of finance, in particular its ability to sell oil on the international market. We are also directly targeting its supply routes between Syria and Iraq, particularly in the region around Sinjar.

23. The Democratic Union party—the PYD—holds political power in all three provinces of Rojava, in northern Syria, including the war-torn province of Kobani. Will the Government be communicating or liaising with the PYD as it continues to resist Daesh in the region? (902280)

Yes. I discussed this matter in Ankara recently with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of Turkey, who obviously want ISIL/Daesh pushed back from their own border in the remaining Manbij pocket between the two Kurdish areas. I emphasise, however, that all parties in Syria—Kurds, Shi’a, Sunni, Alawite, Christian and Druze—have to be brought into the process to deliver in Syria a more inclusive Government that can end this civil war.

History gives us practically no examples of a determined enemy surrendering in response to conventional air bombardment, so what ground forces are credibly and seriously fighting ISIL/Daesh in Syria, other than some unpleasant Islamist groups, the Kurds—in a limited area—and the Syrian Government army?

There are moderate forces fighting Daesh in Syria that have also been engaged in the civil war. The key is to bring the civil war to an end as quickly as possible so that we can focus on dealing with Daesh. Troops are already involved in the conflict. We have been helping to train them and supplying non-lethal equipment to them, and we will continue to work with them to ensure that Syria is rid of both Assad and Daesh.

The Secretary of State will be aware of a report published today in The Independent stating that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Islamophobic hate crime in the UK increased by 300%, the vast and overwhelming majority of victims being young Muslim women. When will the Secretary of State join the cross-party consensus in the Chamber and follow the example of President Hollande, who refused last week to give the terrorists the legitimacy they craved and instead rightly described them as “Daesh”? Does he not accept that the language we use is important and that language connecting Muslims and terrorism is dangerous and misleading?

I agree with almost all of that, although I am afraid I have not had time to read the report in The Independent. I myself prefer the term “Daesh” because it is more accurate and does not embrace the word “Islam”, but “ISIL” and “ISIS” have become accepted terms in the British media, and it might be too late to make that change.

19 . Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a direct threat to the UK and that we should now consider all necessary steps to stop it, across military, diplomatic, domestic and, indeed, humanitarian fronts? (902275)

I agree, and I know my hon. Friend will have noted the UN resolution passed to that effect. We have to confront this terror organisation with all means at our disposal, not simply by defending our territory here but by striking at its roots and dealing with it politically, culturally, financially and ideologically.

People on both sides of the House will welcome the UN Security Council resolution passed on Friday night calling on member states to take all necessary measures against ISIL/Daesh, but will the Defence Secretary reassure Members on both sides of the House that, along with any proposed military action in Syria, there is also a parallel plan to secure peace, end Assad’s reign of terror over his own people, put in place a timetable for a transitional Government in Syria and for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities?

Yes, I fully accept we have to persuade those with doubts about military action that there is a political track as well. Towards the end of the week, the Prime Minister will be replying to the questions posed—quite legitimately—by the Foreign Affairs Committee that deal with exactly that point: how a transitional Government can be put in place that has the support of all sections of the different communities in Syria and how that can lead to the provision of security, particularly in the Sunni areas, in northern Syria. However, that should not delay our dealing with a terrorist menace that has already brought slaughter to the streets of Paris and resulted in the deaths of our own citizens on a beach in Tunisia and one in Paris itself.

24. Further to the answer given to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), it is dangerous to wound an enemy and not kill him, especially if fighting a wild beast. Given that no air campaign alone has ever dislodged a determined enemy, what is the plan after we have bombed Syria? Where is the strategy? What ground troops are we going to put in? (902281)

In Iraq, we are assisting the legitimate Government of Iraq, the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces to push ISIL out of Iraq, and we are having some success in that. Of course in Syria we will in the end need ground forces that are local and locally supported. Prime Minister Abadi in Baghdad does not want British troops or American troops on the ground; that would further radicalise opinion, particularly in the Sunni areas. On the ground, the battle has to be won by local forces that have the support of the local population, but that should not deter us from making a start in dealing with ISIL’s headquarters, from where this terrorism and slaughter is being directed.