Decisions about the circumstances in which UK forces should be sent into action are amongst the gravest that any government can take. In a modern democracy, government also has a responsibility to listen and the elected parliament should not be cut out of the process that precedes those decisions being made. That, however, is what has happened this weekend. The Prime Minister could and should have consulted Parliament before involving UK forces in air strikes on Syria, including on their strategic purpose and how she believed the action proposed would achieve that purpose.
The reality we all now face, though, is that the airstrikes have gone ahead and the key issues now are what happens from here, including:
- Diplomatic strategies to guard against escalation both on the ground in Syria and between third parties in the region and beyond.
- The need to redouble international efforts to build a peace plan for Syria. The failure of the international community to end the appalling bloodshed in Syria so far does not alter the need to keep trying.
- An urgent and renewed focus on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people – both those still in the firing line and those who have fled.
In all of this, it is vital to reaffirm an indivisible commitment to international law and internationally-agreed rules governing the behaviour and actions of states, especially in relation to the use of chemical weapons. The current investigation into the Douma attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is an important part of that process in relation to Syria.
The ongoing challenges for the international community are to build effective mechanisms to hold to account those who break international law and to uphold the UN’s constitutional responsibility to protect civilians under threat. Nowhere is that more important than in relation to the abhorrent use of chemical weapons, in contravention of international law.
Whatever the immediate results of the US/UK/French airstrikes on Syria, they have not taken away the imperative of addressing those challenges.
Throughout the summer, many people have written to me about the situation in Syria and the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis. Many have been about speculation that the UK Government is considering participating in military action in Syria. More recently, even more have focused on the huge refugee crisis which has been unfolding. Here I give some of my thoughts on both issues.
The scenes in Calais and its impact on the South East of England and on Cross channel travel this summer have not been isolated problems. They are a stark reminder of how issues stemming from thousands of miles away, if left unresolved can affect us. The heart-breaking scenes we have seen more recently across Europe and the Mediterranean have further underlined the scale of the human tragedies involved. I hope this response gives you some idea of how I think we should be facing up to those issues.
Sweden, a country with a population of under 10 million, has taken in almost 65,000 Syrian refugees, the UK has processed just 7,000. That’s fewer than Austria, Hungary, Denmark and the Netherlands. You can see an interactive map here.
I stepped back in time this week, taking to WaterAid’s Victorian Street to mark 150 years of Britain’s modern sewers. I was exposed to the sights and smells of an era in which sewage and waste littered our streets, roads and rivers.
Over a third (39%) of the world’s population today still live without sanitation, this is why supporting international developed and UK Aid is so crucial, and why charities like WaterAid are so important.
Last month, the Amnesty International Group in Bournville, South Birmingham, asked me to address them on my work as a member of the International Development Committee of the House of Commons. This article taken from what I said to the meeting.
After 8 years on the International Development Select Committee (IDC), my appointment as Shadow Transport Minister means I have had to recently step down from the role. I wanted to use this opportunity to share some of my thoughts from my time on the Committee – which serves to scrutinise the policy, administration and spending of the Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).
Today the House of Commons Committee on Arms Exports, that I am a member of, publishes a report concluding that the UK’s human rights policy is being fundamentally undermined by the scale and nature of arms exports licences being approved by the Government. It also finds that the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territories is of severe concern.