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Tense debate as British PM Cameron seeks to bomb Islamic State in Syria

world Updated: Dec 02, 2015 19:38 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
David Cameron

People demonstrate as they oppose possible British air strikes in Syria.(Prasun Sonwalkar/HT Photo)

The House of Commons witnessed a tense 10-hour debate on Wednesday on a motion seeking parliamentary approval to launch air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria, with passionate speeches supporting and opposing the action.

The house was scheduled to vote on the government motion at 10pm UK time (3.30am IST on Thursday) after speeches by 157 MPs. The motion is expected to be carried with the ruling Conservative party having a majority and nearly 90 Labour and other opposition party members expected to support it.

Opening the debate, Prime Minister David Cameron said the aim of the air strikes is to “keep the British people safe”, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted the case had not been made for such action which, he said, would not help make the British people safe.

The debate threw up deep divisions within the Labour party, with Corbyn maintaining his long-held position to oppose such action, and shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn leading the section of party MPs who support the government motion.

Cameron faced repeated calls to apologise for reportedly calling opponents of the motion “terrorist sympathisers”, but refused to do so. Instead, he said there was “honour” in voting for or against the action.

He said, “The question before the house today is how we keep the British people safe from the threat posed by Isil. This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism, it’s about how best we do that.”

MPs, he said, faced a simple question: “Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands from where they are plotting to kill British people, or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”

Corbyn, who allowed his MPs a free vote (he has not issued a whip), said: “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister understands public opposition to his ill thought-out rush to war is growing - and wants to hold the vote before it slips from his hands.”

He added: “Whether it’s the lack of a strategy worth the name, the absence of credible ground troops, the missing diplomatic plan for a Syrian settlement, the failure to address the impact on the terrorist threat or the refugee crisis and civilian casualties, it’s become increasingly clear that the prime minister’s proposals for military action simply do not stack up.”

Corbyn wrote columns in Wednesday’s newspapers opposing the government motion.