Johnson tells MPs that Syrian no-fly zones mean war with Russia

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has resisted calls for the RAF to help establish no-fly zones to protect Syrian civilians under bombardment, saying that UK forces would have to be prepared to open fire on Russian jets.

Fighters from opposition group the Free Syrian Army battle against IS in northern. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Fighters from opposition group the Free Syrian Army battle against IS in northern. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Mr Johnson also said Russia risks becoming a “pariah state” unless it stops a bombing campaign that has deepened the civilian suffering in the besieged city of Aleppo.

He called for protests outside the Russian embassy and said he wanted to pursue those responsible for attacks on hospitals and aid convoys for war crimes.

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Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell led demands for Britain to step up its intervention in Syria during an emergency Commons debate on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo yesterday.

Mr Mitchell argued the UK should consider taking part in a “coalition of the willing” to confront Russian air power in an effort to halt the “appalling catastrophe” facing civilians.

He said: “What we are saying is very clear. No-one wants to see a firefight with Russia, no-one wants to shoot down a Russian plane.

“But what we do say is that the international community has an avowed responsibility to protect and that protection must be exerted.

“If that means confronting Russian air power defensively, on behalf of the innocent people on the ground who we are trying to protect, then we should do that.”

Mr Mitchell, who compared Russia’s actions to those of the Nazis bombing Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, said Nato aircraft could be used to enforce a no-fly zone.

However, Labour shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told MPs that “the last we need is more parties bombing”. She was also accused by her own backbenchers of failing to criticise Russia for the bombing of a United Nations aid convoy on 19 September that ended the latest cease fire between government forces and rebels.

The SNP’s Brendan O’Hara said ministers should work towards a political solution that “immediately halts the air strike campaign”.

“That means everyone’s bombs, foreign secretary, including our own,” he told Mr Johnson.

Mr O’Hara added that the UK had “fuelled the fire” of the war in Syria by launching strikes on Islamic State militants.