North East MPs prepare for vote on Syrian action

North East MPs were last night preparing for a vote on Syrian action amid growing concern at the possibility of UK military intervention

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah

North East MPs were last night preparing for a vote on Syrian action amid growing concern at the possibility of UK military intervention.

As Parliament is recalled to discuss potential military action, MPs said they see comparisons with the build-up to war in Iraq.

Many of the region’s MPs were newly-elected in 2010, but some say there is still the legacy of Tony Blair’s Middle East wars to consider.

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah is among the many waiting to hear what action the Government is considering to prevent further chemical weapon outrages in Syria.

The Labour MP, who in 2003 marched in London’s largest anti-war march before the Iraq invasion, said the events following that war only confirmed her views on intervention.

She added: “I have had a lot of correspondence on this, with both sides expressing the view that clearly something terrible has happened in Syria. The majority of people, I would say, are calling for intervention, but it is maybe 60/40 with those who want us to find an alternative.

“The question we have to ask is if there is anything we can do to make the situation better [and] Cameron has yet to say what it is he wants to do there.

“Many people in Newcastle and across the country have seen what has happened in Iraq, where intervention was incredibly complicated in the long run, and not as easy as Tony Blair and George Bush told us it would be.

“We can see that now and we are much less likely to believe that Western intervention is always for the best.”

Hexham’s Guy Opperman said no one is considering “boots on the ground” to deal with what he called Syria’s evil and murderous dictator.

However, the Conservative MP said: “For my part, I see no plan as yet and more importantly, no strategy and exit. As always, you have to ask whether by getting involved, we make things worse not better.

“I will be there when Parliament is recalled. I will listen to the arguments made.

“There is a free vote, no whipping and no advice from Government as to the PM’s view. There are differences of opinion across all political opinions.

“I can say, at the moment, that I am not in favour of any military action.”

Former foreign secretary Jack Straw said MPs had been made more sceptical by the decision to invade Iraq, which occurred during his time in office.

He told the BBC that Mr Cameron “will need to make the case for the kind of proportionate military response that I understand he and our American, French and Turkish colleagues are now considering”.

The Labour veteran said: “There is an instinct in the British House of Commons to support a British prime minister, of whatever party, where he or she is recommending military action.

“So that will be part of the instinct, but also there is no doubt that the experience of Iraq has raised the bar of scepticism by the British House of Commons on behalf of the British people about whether military action is justified.”

He said Parliament had “not turned pacifist”, as the approval for military action in Libya demonstrated, but “it has become more questioning”.

Tory MP Robert Halfon said he hoped “politicians of all parties will vote to stop mass genocide and the use of chemical weapons”.

Andrew Bridgen, who earlier this year sent a letter signed by 81 fellow Conservatives to Mr Cameron demanding a vote regarding Syria, said: “The House is going to seek assurance on the grounds for action, that there is compelling evidence it is the Assad regime that launched the chemical attacks. That will need to be proved and explained.

“We will need the aims of any action and limits and scope of action, and information on who else will be involved.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “The Prime Minister will have to make a convincing case if he is to persuade not only his own backbenchers but the House as well.”

Tomorrow’s recall of Parliament will be the fourth time David Cameron has interrupted MPs’ holidays.

The parliamentarians can claim up to £3,750 in travel expenses if they are abroad at the time a recall is announced.

Ordinary expenses apply if they are in the country and need to get back to Westminster for an emergency debate.

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