Parliament must give explicit consent for arms to Syria


On Thursday 11 July I took part in the debate on the motion

That this House believes no lethal support should be provided to anti-government forces in Syria without the explicit prior consent of Parliament.


Here is what I said

2.17 pm   Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), because I recall that he and I went to Sierra Leone together when we were both members of the Defence Committee when our Government had, rightly, intervened to defend democracy against people who were practising a form of terrorism against the population.

I am, by instinct and nature, a humanitarian interventionist. I support the responsibility to protect. I believe—I still say it, and it will get me criticised in some quarters—that voting for the intervention in Iraq in 2003 was the right thing to do, and I will not apologise for it. I believe that there are sometimes circumstances where it is right to take action without a United Nations Security Council resolution. For example, when John Major’s Government introduced a no-fly zone they did so without a UN resolution.

Mr Winnick: And there was Kosovo.

Mike Gapes: I will come to Kosovo, but I do not want to get diverted into the Balkans at the moment.

I also believe, though, that we have to look to the consequences of our actions and make judgments. I am not persuaded about suggestions that we provide sophisticated weaponry to opposition groups in Syria; in fact, I am very concerned about them. I am a member of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. We have accountability through the House and its Select Committees, and we monitor the transfer and sale of arms to states. However, the Government seem to be preparing to adopt a position that is not about transferring weaponry to states, but about providing weaponry to factions within a state. We might say that the National Coalition is the sole legitimate representative, although I do not hear that phrase being used quite so forcefully now, but it is certainly not the Government. Our Government would therefore be taking a decision to supply weaponry to a faction within a wider faction, within a state that still has a Government who control part of the territory, while other areas are controlled by warlords and tribal clans—the Kurdish people have almost total autonomy in one part of the country, as was the case for the Iraqi Kurds. Fundamental questions are being raised, so there would need to be an explicit vote in the House if such an action were taken, because it would set a lot of precedents. We all remember things such as arms to the Contras in the United States.

I will support the motion not simply because it is time to assert parliamentary sovereignty once more, but because there would be wider implications of such a decision by the Government. I am also worried that arms would be given to neighbouring states and then passed on, which raises additional problems. We need to explore issues such as end-use agreements,



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