LONDON • Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday argued his case to MPs for Britain to join air strikes in Syria ahead of a vote expected at a later date, with signs of opposition weakening after the Paris attacks.
"We shouldn't be content with outsourcing our security to our allies," Mr Cameron told a packed chamber of the House of Commons in London. "If we won't act now, when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking: 'If not now, when?'."
The Prime Minister's formal reason for speaking was to respond to a Nov 3 report from the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which said Britain should take part in attacks in Syria only if there was a "coherent international strategy." That report, from a panel on which the Conservatives have a majority, was a warning of the doubts many in Parliament had about strikes.
Mr Cameron argued there was a legal basis for intervention for self-defence because of the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants at home.
"We have to deny a safe haven for ISIL in Syria. The longer ISIL is allowed to grow in Syria, the greater the threat it will pose," he said in a written response that he had published before his speech, using another word for ISIS.
Mr Cameron called for "patience and persistence" and outlined a seven-point strategy for Syria, including diplomatic and humanitarian efforts and planning for what will happen if President Bashar al-Assad falls.
Mr Cameron is expected to call a vote in Parliament on the issue before recess begins on Dec 17. This will come two years after a previous vote for military action in Syria failed when the main opposition Labour Party voted against it. Mr Cameron has stepped up pressure on MPs to vote for strikes after ISIS claimed responsibility for the Nov 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.
"The events in Paris have clearly changed things," said Mr Malcolm Chalmers, research director at the Royal United Services Institute. "I think the mood in Parliament has changed," he said, predicting that the vote will pass since "a significant number of MPs" had changed their minds.
"There's scepticism on both sides of the Houses but I think opinions are beginning to change," he said.
Critics have argued that joining the campaign could increase the risk of Britain becoming a target.
"As long as we intervene in the Middle East, we must expect atrocities in return. Bombing will not stop them," columnist Simon Jenkins wrote in the Evening Standard.
But Mr Cameron yesterday argued that Britain was already a target, pointing to the killings of 30 British tourists by an ISIS gunman in a Tunisian resort in June in which a total of 38 people were killed.
He also said that Britain was already assisting in the air campaign on Syria with surveillance.
While British forces are taking part in air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq, they are not involved in the US-led coalition targeting Syria due to resistance from opposition parties still mindful of previous unpopular interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Labour's anti-war leader Jeremy Corbyn is against any military action but Mr Cameron appears increasingly confident he can get enough support from Labour MPs to pass the vote, particularly after last week's United Nations Security Council resolution authorising countries to "take all necessary measures" against ISIS.
A Times/YouGov opinion poll last week found that 58 per cent of people would approve of Britain joining air strikes in Syria, compared to 22 per cent against.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG