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Cameron: Syria air strikes vote right for Britain's safety

Published 02/12/2015

RAF war planes are gearing up to launch air strikes against the militants in their heartland
RAF war planes are gearing up to launch air strikes against the militants in their heartland

Prime Minister David Cameron has said MPs took the "right decision to keep the UK safe" after they overwhelmingly backed air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.

RAF jets and drones are poised to carry out air strikes on the jihadist terror group within hours.

MPs voted by 397 to 223 in favour of extending British action to quash IS from Iraq into its Syrian strongholds - a majority of 174.

Some 66 Labour MPs voted with the government while seven Conservatives opposed the plans for military action.

Mr Cameron said: " I believe the House has taken the right decision to keep the UK safe - military action in Syria as one part of a broader strategy."

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain was "safer tonight" following the decision.

He told Sky News: "We are very pleased that a significant number of Labour MPs have voted with the Government tonight so we have got a clear majority across the House of Commons in support of the action that we are now going to be taking to degrade this evil terrorist organisation.

"Britain is safer tonight because of the decision that the House of Commons has taken."

Mr Hammond said air strikes would now be carried out "as quickly as possible" but conceded the campaign will not be over swiftly.

He told BBC2' s Newsnight: "I cannot believe us stopping air strikes against Daesh in Raqqa for so long as they represent a threat to us, a threat to British citizens and a threat to the British homeland. No, we would have to continue with those air strikes."

Asked if the air strikes would continue for as long as four years, Mr Hammond said: "I hope it won't be four years, but I caution that it isn't going to be months."

A ground war to finish off IS will not be possible until a political settlement to the Syrian civil war is reached and rebel groups, the Damascus government and the Kurds are all able to turn their fire on the terror group, he said.

If this is not delivered within two years, as planned by the Vienna peace talks, "that won't mean that we give up and go home", said the Foreign Secretary.

"We have got to find a political solution to the civil war in Syria. There is no military solution, there can only be a political solution to that civil war."

But Mr Hammond said air strikes would have the immediate effect of "degrading Isil's ability to plan and execute external attacks, so just starting those air strikes - even before we get anywhere near a ground assault on Raqqa - will improve the safety of Britain, of France, of Europe and of British and French people and others, wherever they are in the world".

The vote left Labour bitterly divided with MPs supporting the Government claiming they faced an intense campaign of bullying and threats of recriminations.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn's protests that the Government had failed to set out a convincing case did little to persuade a significant number of his parliamentary party with 11 members of the shadow cabinet - including shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, deputy leader Tom Watson, shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander and shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant - choosing to support Mr Cameron.

Pacifist Mr Corbyn was forced to offer his MPs a free vote and allowed Mr Benn to wrap up the debate arguing in favour of air strikes in a messy compromise to stop the party from falling apart.

In astonishing scenes, the shadow foreign secretary gave an impassioned speech directly challenging his party leader, who sat beside him watching while MPs from across the House broke out into cheers of support.

He told Labour MPs "we never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road".

Mr Benn said there were legitimate arguments for not taking action but he added: "But I say the threat is now and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces."

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