On Friday 26 September the House of Commons voted by a huge majority to approve air strikes by UK armed forces against ISIL in Iraq.
There is no heavier responsibility on any Member of Parliament than to decide whether to commit UK armed forces into combat. Although this current mission does not involve ground troops in Iraq or UK military action elsewhere.
In the House of Commons on Friday, Ed Miliband set out criteria by which I and Labour colleagues assessed the UK Governments case for action.
I have huge admiration for the bravery, spirit, and the duty to serve displayed by all of our armed forces, and so there is no graver decision for our Parliament and our country than whether to commit UK forces to action.
First, there is a just cause for action on both humanitarian grounds and on the grounds of national interest, as the instability caused by the overthrow of the democratic state of Iraq means it could become a haven and training ground for terrorism directed at the UK.
Second, military action in this case is a last resort as ISIL have shown that they are not an organisation that could or should be negotiated with.
Third, the UK is responding to the request of the democratic state of Iraq, so there is a clear legal base for action, providing legitimacy and legal force to our actions.
Fourth, the aims of the mission are clear: international military air power is supporting the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga in their ground campaign against ISIL, and the use of air power is accompanied by training and resources to support their efforts.
Fifth, there is broad support for action, with all 28 EU member states, the Arab League, and a regional coalition of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting the action.
Sixth, the action is proportionate, with the UK now committing six Tornado aircraft as well as continued surveillance, targeting ISIL military capacity in Iraq.
In the House of Commons on Friday MPs from all sides debated and discussed the motion, and Labour concluded that these six conditions – just cause, last resort, legal base, reasonable prospects, regional support, and proportionality – have been met.
Of course I understand that there is deep unease among many in our country about the UK committing military force once again to the Middle East, but by the decision reached we will be supporting action to prevent the foreseeable and certain killing of Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, Christian, and Yezidi Iraqis. The action is specific, has broad international support and is about supporting a democratic state.
It is for reasons of protecting Britain’s national interest, and protecting the values for which we stand, that I supported this action.
Here is my speech in the debate --
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Although its origins lie in Islamist jihadist groups in Iraq and elsewhere, ISIL is not an Islamic organisation; nor is it a state. I think that our media should stop referring to it by using its self-description, and I am glad that the motion does not use those words.
I want to make two points in the limited time that is available to me. This criminal caliphate cult—for that is what it is—is a threat to all the communities in the region, and, because of the 15,000 foreign fighters who have been attracted to it, including 3,000 European Union citizens, it is a threat to us. I have a large number of Muslim constituents, and—I cannot go any further than this—there are people in my borough who have been arrested, detained or imprisoned for terrorist offences. It is vital that we do not take action that gives the narrative that we are against Islam; we are not. We are fighting to defend Islam and Muslims in the Middle East region and also in this country. The worst crimes of this brutal terrorist organisation are being carried out against Islamic women.
Finally, on the Kurds, I am pleased that the British Government are now giving the support that they should have given earlier to the Kurdistan Regional Government, and that we are seen by the Kurds as a friend.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right to raise the plight of the Kurds. Does he also agree that they need not just military assistance, but humanitarian assistance? There are hundreds of thousands of them fleeing both Syria and Kurdish-controlled Iraq.
Mike Gapes: I went to the KRG last year. I visited the area of Dohuk and the Domiz refugee camp. At that time, there were about 150,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees, half of whom were living with families in the city of Dohuk, and the other half in a well-organised refugee camp. Now, there are many more. There were 250,000 Syrian Kurds who fled last year. Now it is estimated that the KRG, which has a population of about 4.5 million people, has taken in 1.4 million refugees or displaced people from the rest of Iraq. Similar stories apply in other countries in the region. The Kurds have taken in Christians, Yazidis, Sunnis and Shi’as. They have not discriminated; they care about humanity. This is a functioning democratic society that needs our support, investment and humanitarian assistance. Above all, the brave but lightly armed peshmerga who have put themselves on the line need far more equipment and training.
A few weeks ago, the capital city of the KRG, Irbil, was potentially going to be swept aside. The Americans and others were thinking about evacuating personnel. It was only because of the peshmerga’s bravery that the KRG was kept safe. It is vital that ISIL is driven back, defeated and ultimately eliminated. The ideology it represents has to be challenged not just by us but by those from within the Muslim world—the imams, the various mosques, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere.