Last night, it was with a heavy heart that I took the decision to vote against air strikes in Syria.
In the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, we face the greatest threat to peace and democracy in our time. The atrocious attacks in Paris confirmed that this terrorist organisation is not constrained by any shred of mercy, humanity, or reason. Its sole barbaric aim is to perpetuate a state of chaos and fear through indiscriminate murder. It must be confronted, and it must be defeated. I am as committed as anyone to achieving this.
At the outset of yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister was absolutely right to emphasise that the question is not about whether we fight terrorism, but about how best we do that.
This week, I attended a high-level briefing for Privy Councillors on the merits of extending strike action across the border from Iraq to Syria. I have also read the key documents including the report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Prime Minister's response.
Yesterday's debate was measured and well-reasoned on both sides of the House.
I do not have the certainty on this highly complex dilemma that some people profess, and I readily admit that this was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make as a Member of Parliament. I listened closely and weighed up the evidence at length, as I believe every MP has a duty to do on matters of such profound national and international importance. The arguments in favour of military intervention were persuasive. The question was whether bombing from the air made sense. Many of you will be aware that the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs voted in support of the Government’s plans, and I respect the view taken by my colleagues.
In the end, I was not convinced by the Government’s case. With the absence of ground forces and no clear long-term plan, there are serious doubts about whether air strikes will be effective as a means of degrading Daesh. My belief is that this old-fashioned and blunt instrument is not an appropriate response to a new and sophisticated threat. The force we seek to combat is dispersed in a civilian population, clandestine, and difficult to target with air strikes.
A bombing campaign is extremely likely to lead to large numbers of civilian deaths, greater instability in the region, and fuel the radicalisation of young people in a vulnerable population. These factors tie in with the apocalyptic narrative and recruitment strategy of Daesh. Critically, I could not be confident that the kind of action proposed by the Government would make people safer at home or in Syria.
I am not a pacifist: I firmly believe we must take decisive action to eliminate terrorism. But I concluded that this step was not the answer we need. The House reached a different conclusion, which I respect, and I fully back our military personnel who risk their lives on active service in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the battle against terrorism.