British MPs set to vote on Syria air strikes

Protesters against British military action in Syria gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday.
Protesters against British military action in Syria gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Britain's Parliament was set to vote yesterday in favour of joining the bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Syria, despite growing doubts among the public and some MPs.

Prime Minister David Cameron kicked off over 10 hours of scheduled debate by urging MPs to "answer the call" from Britain's allies and authorise air strikes against ISIS in Syria. "The action we propose is legal, it is necessary and it is the right thing to do to keep our country safe," he said.

But he was forced to fend off calls to apologise, including from opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, after reportedly telling fellow Conservative MPs at a private meeting not to vote with "a bunch of terrorist sympathisers" against the strikes. Mr Corbyn, for his part, warned MPs against an "ill-thought rush to war".

Ministers were confident that MPs would ultimately say "yes" in a vote expected at around 10pm local time (6am Singapore time today), while campaigners promised a new protest outside Parliament after a demonstration on Tuesday drew around 4,000 people.

British support for strikes has dropped sharply in a week, according to an opinion poll published yesterday, with those in favour down to 48 per cent from 59 per cent, and those against rising to 31 per cent from 21 per cent in a YouGov survey for the Times.

Mr Cameron insists military action is needed to prevent attacks like last month's gun and bomb rampage that killed 130 people in Paris, saying the bombing would be accompanied by a diplomatic push to resolve the Syrian conflict. The motion stressed that Britain would not deploy ground combat troops.

Britain already has eight Tornado fighter jets operating from its military base in Cyprus plus an unknown number of drones involved in strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq.

The government has said it will deploy an unspecified number of additional jets if the bombing is approved and says Britain's Brimstone missiles will be in demand to carry out precision strikes.

Mr Cameron adopted the term "Daesh" to refer to the terror group yesterday and urged others to follow suit to avoid lending the Islamists credibility. He had previously used "ISIL" to refer to the extremist group, before switching to Daesh, which has negative connotations and is based on an Arabic acronym.

"Daesh is clearly an improvement and I think it's important that we all try to use this language," Mr Cameron told Parliament during a debate on whether Britain should join air strikes against the group in Syria. "Frankly this evil death cult is neither a true representation of Islam nor is it a state," Mr Cameron said, branding its members "women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'British MPs set to vote on Syria air strikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe