Islington MPs explain why they refused to support military action in Syria

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn - Credit: Archant

»On Friday, the Government voted against British military action in the troubled middle eastern country of Syria, in one of the most important parliamentary votes for a decade.

Diane Abbot

Diane Abbot - Credit: Archant

For the last two years Syria has been locked in a brutal civil war which has cost the lives of an estimated 100,000 people and forced 1.7million to flee the country.

Emily Thornberry. MP for Islington South

Emily Thornberry. MP for Islington South - Credit: Archant


Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil conflict

Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil conflict - Credit: Archant

But a suspected chemical weapons attack near the capital Damascus last month crossed what US president Barack Obama called a ‘red line’, causing the US, UK and France to raise the prospect of military action.

But last week MPs, including all four of Islington and Hackney’s Labour representatives, voted by a margin of 285-272 against military action. The Gazette caught up with them to find out why:

Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Finsbury, said: “Everybody wants to do something about this terrible atrocity. The question is what can we do that would make the lives of people in Syria better?

“What do we want to achieve by military action? Do we want to replace [Basha al-] Assad’s Government?

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“If so who with – a Government backed by Al Qaida?

“I think deep down everybody knows we need a political solution to this and we need to get round the table. Will military action help this?

“I don’t think it will.

“Any action would have to be effective and we would have to be confident of our ground legally. I didn’t think we could be sure of either of those things, so that’s why I voted against.

“It was right that Ed [Miliband] took that stance and I think the whole country breathed a sign of relief.

“Islington didn’t have one elected represented supporting the war in Iraq. A very honourable group of people stood up against the war.

“I am not in principle against military force in very limited circumstance, like a humanitarian disaster, but I think we have to go in a broad coalition and we don’t have that here.”

Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, said: “I just think that region is very troubled and military action would be like throwing a match in a can of petrol.

“We do need a more robust response to what Assad has been doing, but let’s not kid ourselves; missiles would cause more problems than they would solve.

“There aren’t many options – certainly not any easy answers. If we go in how do we withdraw? I don’t think precision strikes are realistic.

“I firmly believe military action is wrong, but having said that I feel we owe something to the people suffering from these attacks.

“How could we look into the eyes of someone whose children had been killed and say we didn’t act?”

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said: “We have already had dreadful wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and I do not believe that the thousands dead or the £30billion we have spent has brought about a better or a safer world.

“Whilst I condemn human rights abuses by the regime or opposition in Syria and the use of chemical weapons in conflict, it has to be resolved politically.

“The House of Commons vote gives the British people the moral authority.

‘‘We must find a rapid and effective political solution that involves Russia and Iran.”

Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: “My position on Syria was always that I didn’t think bombing would have been legal, it wouldn’t have made matters any better and it was going to embroil us in a Syrian civil war.

“I’m glad we were able to defeat the government on Thursday. It sets an important precedent that you can’t go to war without going to parliament in advance. In the past the troops were already mobilising and we were just rubber stamping.


“I think parliament needs to decide on going to war and not the Prime Minister, and it’s important the public has a say. I’ve had overwhelming public support on my position, and I’m glad I was one of the people who came out very early against it and I hope I was able to affect what my leadership did.

“My position is there’s no basis on coming back for a second vote. What we need to do is step up humanitarian aid but also to look at more diplomatic pressure. The Russians are vetoing action, but we could go to the General Assembly which would leave Russia isolated.

“We also need to talk to Iran which is Russia’s paymaster in the region and try to also get some sort of ceasefire.

“But bombing Syria was never going to be a solution.”