Please note: This site covers the period that I was a Member of Parliament from May 2010 to June 2017.
Thank you to those who have contacted me about military action in Syria. I have received a great many communications from people across Bedford and Kempston about this issue and I appreciate every individual taking the time to share their views on the subject.
I also thank those who were able to attend the public meeting I held at St Cuthbert’s Hall on Sunday 29th November. There was a considerable range of views expressed at that meeting and all views were heard respectfully and thoughtfully – a credit to our town. The mood of that meeting was summed up well by local resident, Kate Allen who said “if the government decides to extend bombing then we, the people of Bedford, because of harmony and diversity have a special opportunity to “lean in” and show ISIS that nothing can divide us. We can be a model of holding the complexity and tensions in unity.”
As you will be aware, Parliament was asked on Wednesday to vote to extend authorisation for RAF airstrikes against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq to include strikes in Syria.
I supported the motion and I would like to outline my thoughts on the issue.
Many of those who have contacted me expressed concerns about possible civilian casualties from airstrikes in Syria. I understand and share those concerns. I would note two relevant points: first, that the Ministry of Defence reports that from over 300 precision strikes over the past year by the RAF in Iraq there have not, so far, been any civilian causalities. This is not a guarantee of course that there may not be future casualties, but I believe provides some perspective. Second, those of us who are concerned about civilian casualties need to recognise that Daesh is currently murdering and brutalising civilians in the territories under their control.
As recognised by the UN, Daesh is a particularly brutal cult and we should not forget the atrocities being committed by Daesh:
- • Enslavement (for example of 1,000 Yazidi women)
- • Systemic rape (including of minors as evidenced to the House of Lords by Angelina Jolie)
- • Routine beheadings, including the beheading of British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and the reintroduction of crucifixion as a punishment
- • Punishment of alleged sodomy by throwing gay men to their deaths from the tops of buildings
- • Killing prisoners of war in defiance of UN conventions (including the mass execution of 250 Syrian soldiers)
- • Destruction of cultural and historical sites of global importance including at Palmyra and Nimrud
- • Making Christianity punishable by death
- • Glorifying in death (including promotion of images of children with severed heads)
In addition, Daesh has sanctioned a number of actions outside Syria/Iraq in the past six months, including:
- • June – Gunman kills 38, including 30 British citizens, in Tunisia
- • July – Suicide bomber kills 33 in Turkey
- • August – Suicide bombers kill 76 in Iraq
- • September – Suicide bomber kills 25 at a mosque in Yemen
- • October – Downing of Russian airliner killing 224 in Egypt
- • November – Suicide bombers kill 43 people in Lebanon
- • November – Suicide bombers kill 130 people in Paris
- • November – Suicide bombers kill 22 people in Mali
- • November – Suicide bomber kills 14 in Tunisia
The Prime Minister has also revealed that seven plots for attacks in the UK have been disrupted by the Security Services over the past year.
Whilst we all want to see peace, we also cannot sit back and allow these atrocities to continue. Nor should we wait for an attack to happen on British soil. The threat from Daesh is real and urgent.
Daesh and its poisonous ideology are a virus that has attached itself to Islam and seeks to pervert that religion and manipulate people to the most heinous, brutal acts. All of us have a responsibility to eradicate Daesh by all reasonable means – financial, ideological, humanitarian and, yes, military intervention.
The threat posed by Daesh is underscored by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2249. The resolution states that Daesh “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and calls for member states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Daesh and, crucially, it says that we should “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.
There have been reports that there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups that can help to defeat Daesh. I am not persuaded that there is an army of 70,000 “moderate” forces, but that does not dissuade me from supporting military intervention. Military intervention will enable us to influence and rally military command of the Syrian third force and assist development of a force that can argue for a more liberal Syrian society post-conflict. The Syrian people, including those seeking refuge in the UK, will not get that with Assad.
Concerns have been raised that military action by the UK may “inspire” others to join Daesh. That may or may not happen but it is a consequence that will need managing, not a decisive reason against action. I have been working hard to protect the policing budget and I have supported additional counter terrorism funding in order to assist in combating this threat.
I recognise that Daesh cannot be defeated with military action alone. I welcome the Prime Minister’s multi-faceted approach, which is based on the counter-extremism strategy to prevent attacks at home, the diplomatic and political process to work with our allies, humanitarian support and longer-term stabilisation, as well as military action. I have raised these issues with the Prime Minister in the House of Commons in recent days and I include transcripts of my questions at the end of this post.
Unlike in Iraq, unlike in Libya and unlike Syria two years ago, there is an active peace dialogue already active. This must be our main focus. Since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria, pressing for an agreed international approach through the Geneva and Vienna conferences and providing funding and support to successive UN Special Envoys. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to redoubling our diplomatic and political efforts as part of our strategy.
In my view, as part of our diplomatic efforts, the UK government should prioritise the promotion of the values that underpin our free society – the protection of religious freedom, the promotion of women’s rights, respect for the rights of children and respect also for racial, sexual and other minorities – in our diplomatic relationships with all nations in the region. These are the people targeted and exploited by Daesh and we should strongly promote an alternative vision of society.
Many constituents wrote of the need to stem the flow of finance to Daesh. I completely agree. In parallel with, not instead of, military action, all countries need to clamp down on formal and informal flows of finance. The illicit trade in oil needs to be stopped, in particular from Daesh to the Syrian government. I also want the UK to pressure Gulf States to stem informal financial transfers to Daesh.
Humanitarian assistance to those caught up in the conflict is also vital. The UK’s assistance to people in the region is already the biggest ever UK response to a humanitarian crisis. Our country’s contribution of over £1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance is second only to that of the USA. The Prime Minister has recognised the need to work with other countries on the preparation of a proper stabilisation and reconstruction effort in Syria once the conflict has been brought to an end, committing over £1 billion in reconstruction funds.
I believe that this combined strategy of military, diplomatic and humanitarian actions is a sensible approach to degrading and defeating Daesh and bringing an end to conflict in Syria. Daesh poses a very real threat to the UK and we cannot allow it a safe haven in Syria. We cannot ignore the problem and leave it to others. We must stand up to protect British citizens and other civilians, and for these reasons I supported the extension of British airstrikes to Syria.
Questions to the Prime Minister by Richard Fuller MP
26th November 2015
Prime Minister’s Statement in Response to Foreign Affairs Select Committee
One of the things we have learned from the Iraq war is that, because of the difference of views, it aggravated the separation between British Muslims and the rest of the British population. That gave rise to an irrational fear of people because they were Muslims and led to an increase in the attacks on people in this country because they were Muslims. Is the Prime Minister sure that that will not happen again as a consequence of the decisions that he makes after today?
I always listen carefully to my hon. Friend, not least because he works so hard to represent a very multi-ethnic, multi-faith constituency in Bedford. My impression is that British Muslims are absolutely clear that Daesh/ISIL and this so-called “caliphate” have nothing to do with the religion they care about. I went to Friday morning prayers under the town hall in Chipping Norton recently, where the British Muslims in west Oxfordshire gather, and they all said that in unison; the first thing they said as I walked in the room was, “These terrible people. Prime Minister, they have got nothing to do with us.” You feel their pain in having to say that, so I do not think we should fear that taking action will do damage in that way.
23rd November 2015
Prime Minister’s Statement on ISIL: National Security and Defence
In his review of overseas development strategy, will the Prime Minister find resources to promote British values so that the woman in a country where she has to fight for the right to work knows that we are on her side, those of a minority faith have the right to worship their God, the gay man has the right to look forward to a loving future and, most of all, people with minority ideas have the right to express those freely without repression?
My hon. Friend is right that our aid budget is not simply about spending money; it is also about trying to help build what I call the golden thread of conditions—the rule of law, rights of minorities, growing democracy—that helps to deliver inclusiveness and development. I spent some of Friday with the excellent Christian charity Open Doors, which promotes exactly that sort of work and was full of praise for what the Government are doing. It wants us to do more to protect the freedom to worship and that is something we should focus on.
18th November 2015
Prime Minister’s Questions
The French armed police who stormed the Bataclan and killed those vile, murderous scum are heroes, and so are the British armed police who protect our public spaces and the people. Will the Prime Minister send a note of unequivocal support today to those officers on patrol, and ensure that in next week’s review, they have the resources they need to keep us safe?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We ask the police every day to take risks on our behalf. Let me thank the police who policed so effectively the game at Wembley last night.
In terms of what the French police have done, I think the House would welcome an update. We have seen the news of a police operation in Paris this morning. Two terrorist suspects died, including a female suspect who blew herself up. Seven arrests are reported to have been made. This operation has now finished. As the French Interior Minister has said, we should all acknowledge the bravery of the French police in dealing with what is a very challenging situation.
I hope there can be consensus across the House—I mean right across the House—on this. If we are confronted with a situation like this, the British police should not be in any doubt. If you have a terrorist who is threatening to kill people, you can—indeed, you must—use lethal force.