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The situation in Syria

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04 September 2013
House of Commons Last week there was a vote in the House of Commons regarding the situation in Syria and the possibility of British involvement in military action. Below is a letter that I have today sent to constituents who have taken the time to contact me about this important matter. It explains why I voted against the Government and sets out some of my wider views about the crisis.

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Thank you for your recent email about the vote in the House of Commons last week, which was concerned with Syria and the possibility of British involvement in military action. I am sorry for the slightly delayed response but I hope you will understand that the last week has been both very busy and extremely difficult.

The situation in Syria is horrific. Nobody could fail to be moved by the images we have all seen on the internet and on our television screens. The Assad regime is, in my view, guilty of heinous crimes and I fully understand the desire of those who want to see our Government and others take firm action.
 
However, a decision to commit Britain to involvement in military action in Syria was one which could not and should not have been taken quickly or on the basis of partial information. At the point at which the Prime Minister decided to recall Parliament last week, there was in my view a very real danger that this was going to be the case. I believe the Labour Party took the right decision to slow down the decision making process and to insist that certain conditions needed to be met before any decision could be taken. Trying to rush an ill-defined plan through Parliament was not the right way to take a decision of this significance.

I therefore voted against the Government motion last week, and for an amendment which was tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. I did so because I felt that the decision making process set out in the Opposition’s amendment was more rigorous than the process favoured by the Government. Given the gravity of the decision at stake and its potentially far-reaching international ramifications, it was in my view right for the Labour Party to seek proper safeguards regarding the legality of any decision, the nature of evidence that needed to be available, and the international diplomatic process that had to take place before the British Parliament was asked to consider the substantive issue of military intervention. 

After the votes last Thursday in which both the Opposition amendment and the Government motion were defeated, the Prime Minister decided to state that he would not return to Parliament in the future to ask it again to support British military action in Syria. 

There are no easy solutions to the crisis in Syria, and there is no doubt that the people of Syria are suffering dreadfully. The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, and I understand the argument that some have made that it should not go unpunished. 

I also appreciate that there are very rarely any certainties involved in taking decisions about military intervention. However, I was not convinced last week (and still remain unconvinced) that a military strike is necessarily the right response. I have serious doubts that it would increase the longer-term likelihood of peace in Syria (and in the region more widely), or that it would reduce the likelihood of even greater suffering and bloodshed than is already being inflicted on the civilian population. I was not clear about the objective of the strikes which were proposed last week, I was concerned that the legal basis for action was not made out, and I had serious concerns that action could well result in a huge escalation of violence across the entire region. If we do return to this matter in the future, I would want to see coherent answers to these points before I could consider supporting military intervention.

I will continue to follow developments in Syria very closely and will push the British Government to do all it can to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, which I believe will inevitably need to be found if there is to be peace in the long term. 

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. 

Yours sincerely

Heidi Alexander MP
Member of Parliament for Lewisham East


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