Why the Liberal Democrats backed action in Syria

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Last week I wrote to the Prime Minister, together with Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown, Ming Campbell, Kirsty Williams and Willie Rennie setting out five principles against which the Liberal Democrats believe the case for extension of military action against ISIL in Syria should be judged.

It is my judgement that, on balance, the five tests I set out have been met as best they can.

1. Legal

Military intervention must follow an international legal framework. We believe this has been provided by UN Resolution 2249 which urges members to take “all necessary measures” to defeat ISIL.

This is the instrument with which all those opposed to ISIL have the means to coordinate military action to defeat them, including regional actors on the ground.


UN resolution 2249 calls for all necessary measures to be taken to defeat ISIL. This is not a passive statement of approval, it is a clear call for all those who can act to do so. The core legal base cited by the Prime Minister in his response to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) for UK military action in Syria is collective self defence of Iraq, with the individual self-defence of the UK and collective self-defence of other states as additional legal bases.

2. Wider diplomatic framework including efforts towards a no-bomb zone to protect civilians

Any military action by the UK must be part of a wider international effort involving all who have an interest in defeating ISIL, as a prelude to ending the conflict in Syria, including Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The UK Government should use all efforts to ensure that the Vienna talks succeed in bringing together the broadest possible support for action to end the war in Syria and effect political transition.

In addition, we call on the government to explicitly work towards ending the Syrian regime’s bombing of civilians with a no-bomb zone to maximise civilian protection and allow for an upscaling of humanitarian access.


The Government motion clearly places this military action within the broader strategy of bringing peace to Syria. And in his comments the Prime Minister has made a strong effort to stress that his plans are part of a wide diplomatic framework which seeks to ultimately destroy ISIL and ensure political transition and an end to the war in Syria.

The key countries that are needed for this to happen are involved- either in the Vienna talks, in the fight against ISIL, or in both.

Civilian protection is the ultimate aim of a ceasefire, which is clearly stated as an aim in the motion. We call for a stronger commitment to this as part of the Vienna talks, but we believe that the plan outlined in the talks is currently the best platform on which civilian protection can be delivered.

3. UK led pressure on Gulf States for increased support in the region

The UK should lead a concerted international effort to put pressure on the Gulf States, specifically Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to stop the funding of jihadi groups within the region and worldwide and do much more to assist in the effort to defeat ISIL, establish peace in Syria and help with the refugee situation. They are currently doing very little, despite claiming to be part of the anti-ISIL coalition.

ISIL is not just a Western problem, and this is one way of preventing them from framing the situation in that way.


The UK government has confirmed the support of the key regional states

We call on the government to pressure all regional states to be more vocal in their support of the aims of the coalition and in their condemnation of ISIL.

The Government’s motion commits to cutting “ISIL’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons” but we believe more needs to be said about the role of specific states on this, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and will be pressing for further action from the Government on this.

4. Post-ISIL plan

The government must be absolutely clear on what Syria and Iraq will look like post-ISIL, and what post-conflict strategy (including an exit strategy) they propose to give the best chance of avoiding a power vacuum. This must be linked to the above diplomatic framework which will outline steps for ending the wider conflict in Syria.


There is significant detail in the statement and the response on how the UK is part of various initiatives to ensure a comprehensive reconstruction in post-war Syria.

The Government has pledged at least £1 billion to go towards reconstruction. and we welcome the planned conference for the discussion on this in London in Februiary

Critically, the Prime Minister has stressed that they will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq and will not attempt any dismantling of the Syrian state, nor will they use foreign funding to support international corporations to replace any state institutions

The Vienna talks are currently proposing a transitional government without Assad to be established in the first six months of 2016, following by elections within the next 18 months.

5. Domestic

We acknowledge that the fight against ISIL is not just in the Middle East: it is within Europe and it is here in the UK. We call on the government to immediately publish its 2014 investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood and also call on them to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK

We call on the government to step up its acceptance of Syrian refugees, and opt in to Save the Children’s proposal to rehome 3000 unaccompanied refugee children from with Europe.


The Prime Minister has confirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood report will be published in the next two weeks, and has agreed to commission a wider report into the funding of jihadi groups in the UK.

The government has also agreed to look carefully at the proposals to take 3000 unaccompanied children from within Europe, which is a big step given they previously wouldn’t even accept that there were unaccompanied children.

Read more about our position on Syria

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