I have spent much of the last few weeks trying to reach a decision on what role the UK should play in the Syrian conflict. I have not been able to do so. Perhaps if I had been in Parliament today, I would have reached a conclusion, but as it is, on this most important matter, I remain unsure.
This, of course, is why we elect representatives – to speak for us, and to devote time and energy to making decisions on our behalf – and tonight, this is what the representatives that we as nation elected, have done. After long and thorough debate, committee and cabinet discussions and public consultations, the vast majority of MPs, on both sides of the house, have voted in favour of extending the RAF’s bombing of ISIS targets to Syria. (It should not be forgotten that this *is* an extension of our involvement in a a conflict which is already going on in both Syria and Iraq, and which we are already involved in.)
I do not know if this is the right decision – only time will tell that – but it is the decision which has been made, and we must except that.
However, accepting that a decision has been made does not mean we can forget the issue. On the contrary, we should continue to interrogate our role in not only this, but every conflict. I believe that we have a moral duty to intervene if that intervention means fewer people die overall. It does not matter if those people are British or Syrian. In 1948, after the most inhuman war of all time, the world agreed that this was the most fundamental shared truth of humanity: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
It is this spirit of brotherhood which I believe motivated the words and votes of every person sitting in the houses of parliament today, on either side of the debate. And it is this spirit of brotherhood which we must continue to strive to maintain.
With the UK now committed to bombing ISIS targets in Syria, that spirit of brotherhood must take on a different form. Whilst I am unsure of the merits of bombing specifically, I believe the vote tonight represents a commitment to helping solve the problems of Syria and Iraq. We must reaffirm our commitment to creating a peaceful, stable Syria and Iraq, by whatever means is most appropriate. If that requires the deployment of ground troops, we should do so. If it means playing a peacekeeping role for decades to come, we must do so. If it means curtailing our arms sales, or devoting hundreds of thousands of pounds to rebuilding and meeting humanitarian needs, we must do so. We must take whatever action is moral and serves the best interests of humanity.
These are problems we have of course failed to solve in the past. Whilst the situation tonight is not comparable to 2003 (a war is happening, whether we are involved or not), we must ensure we do not make the same failings we made before. We must do all we can to help rebuild Syria and Iraq. Just because we have failed to do this in the past, does not mean we should not try to do so again. We must learn from our mistakes. We must not repeat them. But that is not the same as avoiding situations because we might fail. We must pick ourselves back up.
“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” We have a hard obligation to meet to one another. Some of you will think bombing is not the way to meet it, others will believe it is the best course of action available to us. But I hope all can agree that we, as a nation and as a world, must commit ourselves to fulfilling our shared duty to each other.