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David Cameron announces Syria vote for Wednesday

By Andrew Woodcock and David Hughes

Published 30/11/2015

British Prime Minister David Cameron goes over some paperwork prior to addressing world leaders at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
British Prime Minister David Cameron goes over some paperwork prior to addressing world leaders at the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

David Cameron is to start the countdown to UK military action in Syria by telling Cabinet colleagues he is recommending a House of Commons vote on Wednesday on air strikes against the Islamic State terror group.

The Prime Minister's decision to call a vote comes after Labour MPs were granted a free vote on military action, paving the way for Mr Cameron to secure the "clear majority" he wants.

In a statement at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said he would put his plan to Cabinet at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had called for the PM to offer MPs a full two days of debate on the floor of the Commons before they decide whether to give the go-ahead to the extension of RAF bombing missions against IS - also known as Isil, Isis and Daesh - from Iraq into Syria. Labour said the vote should not be held until next week at the earliest.

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Speaking shortly after his return from the climate summit in Paris, Mr Cameron said: "I can announce that I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow that we hold a debate and a vote in the House of Commons to extend the air strikes that we have carried out against Isil in Iraq to Syria, that we answer the call from our allies and work with them because Isil is a threat to our country and this is the right thing to do."

Mr Cameron said he believed there was "growing support across Parliament for the compelling case there is to answer the call from our allies to act against Isil in Syria and Iraq".

Confining RAF action to Iraq "makes no sense" when IS itself does not recognise its border with Syria, he said.

"Don't Bomb Syria" signs crowd the skyline outside Downing Street against the possible British involvement in the bombing of Syria at Downing Street on November 28, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
An anti-war protester amongst the crowd outside Downing Street against the possible British involvement in the bombing of Syria at Downing Street on November 28, 2015 in London, England.
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: "Don't Bomb Syria" signs crowd the skyline next to the Cenotaph outside Downing Street against the possible British involvement in the bombing of Syria at Downing Street on November 28, 2015 in London, England. UK anti-war organisation, Stop the War Coalition, organised the protest in response to the proposed vote in Parliament by David Cameron to involve British forces in the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria. A similar protest in February 2003 against the British involvement in Iraq attracted a reported 2 million people to the streets of London. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Anti-war protesters chant "Don't bomb Syria" outside Downing Street against the possible British involvement in the bombing of Syria at Downing Street on November 28, 2015 in London, England. UK anti-war organisation, Stop the War Coalition, organised the protest in response to the proposed vote in Parliament by David Cameron to involve British forces in the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria. A similar protest in February 2003 against the British involvement in Iraq attracted a reported 2 million people to the streets of London. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: "Don't Bomb Syria" signs crowd the skyline next to the Cenotaph outside Downing Street against the possible British involvement in the bombing of Syria at Downing Street on November 28, 2015 in London, England. UK anti-war organisation, Stop the War Coalition, organised the protest in response to the proposed vote in Parliament by David Cameron to involve British forces in the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria. A similar protest in February 2003 against the British involvement in Iraq attracted a reported 2 million people to the streets of London. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Actor Mark Rylance speaks to protesters at Whitehall in London during a demonstration organised by Stop the War Coalition against proposed bombing of the Islamic State in Syria. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday November 28, 2015. See PA story POLITICS Syria Protest. Photo credit should read: Hannah McKay/PA Wire

He added: "It is in the national interest, it is the right thing to do, we will be acting with our allies, we will be careful and responsible as we do so, but in my view it s the right thing to do this to keep our country safe."

Asked why he had not complied with Mr Corbyn's call for a two-day debate, Mr Cameron said: " We will make sure that we have a very long and full debate on Wednesday and we will take the action necessary to make sure we have, in many ways, the equivalent number of questions we would often have across a two day debate in one day.

"I want MPs to be able to have full consideration, to make speeches, to make points, to ask me questions, to examine the Government's case."

Mr Cameron acknowledged it would "take time" for his strategy to effect change in Syria.

"This whole strategy will take time, but it is the right thing to do," he said.

"To make sure we go after the terrorists who threaten people in our country just as they attacked and killed those people on the streets of Paris, the streets of Ankara and the streets of Beirut, and indeed British people on the beaches of Tunisia."

Mr Corbyn has made clear his opposition to the extension of air strikes, but a fraught two-hour meeting of the shadow cabinet heard that as many as 43% of Labour MPs - almost 100 of the 231-strong parliamentary party - were ready to back military action, against 57% - around 132 - who would follow their leader into the No lobby.

This would provide Mr Cameron with an assurance that he can avoid a repeat of his defeat in 2013, when he sought approval to launch action against the regime of Syria's president Bashar Assad.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: "I am confident that when we bring this matter to a vote in Parliament we will now see a majority of parliamentarians supporting the action."

Mr Hammond said he expected the deployment of war planes to the RAF's base in Cyprus to be increased if the mission is expanded.

"The equipment to be deployed will be determined by military considerations and may vary from time to time, but broadly speaking we are expecting to increase the deployment of Tornados that we have already deployed to Akrotiri and supplement it with a deployment of Typhoon Eurofighter aircraft," said the Foreign Secretary.

Downing Street confirmed work was under way within Government on a draft motion, covering not only military action but also the other prongs of Mr Cameron's strategy, involving work on counter-terrorism, the diplomatic and political process and ongoing humanitarian aid.

A senior Labour source said Mr Corbyn and shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn will speak from the despatch box in the Commons debate, even though they would vote in opposite directions.

While admitting the arrangement was "certainly unusual", the source said: "I don't think it's shambolic. It's taking account of the fact that there are very significant differences of opinion, as we know, in the shadow cabinet about this issue."

Labour sources said the party's official policy remained in line with a motion passed by its annual conference in September.

This said air strikes should take place only if four conditions are met, relating to authorisation from the United Nations, a comprehensive plan for humanitarian assistance, and assurances that bombing will be directed solely at IS and will be subordinate to diplomatic efforts to end the war.

Mr Corbyn made clear he does not believe these conditions have been met, as Labour supporters of air strikes believe. And he believes opinion within the party, including the shadow cabinet, is moving against air strikes.

Shortly before the meeting, Labour released analysis of responses to a survey of party members, which appeared to show overwhelming opposition to the extension of military action, with 75% of a sample of 1,900 opposing bombing and just 13% in favour.

In a letter to Mr Cameron, the SNP's leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, called on the Prime Minister to publish his draft motion "as early as possible".

"With the Labour Party giving up its whip on a matter of war and peace, it is now the responsibility of the Scottish National Party to take the lead in holding the UK Government to account," said Mr Robertson.

A Labour source insisted Mr Benn's position was secure and Mr Corbyn retained "full confidence" in him.

"He is speaking because he is the shadow foreign secretary and this is a free vote and the shadow cabinet is embracing that and giving the chance for the alternative position to be put," said the source.

But he added: "Jeremy will be speaking for majority Labour Party opinion, he will be speaking on the basis of Labour Party policy and he will be speaking as the elected leader of the Labour Party elected with a landslide no previous Labour leader could possibly enjoy."

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