Syria: Labour MPs get free vote as PM calls debate

THE UK is set to join the campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria after David Cameron has said he will call a one-day debate and vote in the House of Commons tomorrow.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: PA

This comes after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was yesterday forced to allow his MPs a free vote on the issue. Up to 100 Labour MPs are now expected to join the Tories in backing military action, with around 130 following Mr Corbyn in to the No lobby.

This opens the door for Prime Minister David Cameron to secure the “clear majority” in the Commons which he said was needed before calling a vote.

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Labour said the vote should not be held until next week at the earliest.
Speaking shortly after his return from the climate summit in Paris last night, Mr Cameron said: “I can announce that I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow that we hold a debate and a vote in the House of Commons to extend the airstrikes that we have carried out against Isil in Iraq to Syria, that we answer the call from our allies and work with them because Isil is a threat to our country and this is the right thing to do.”

It was a humiliating day for Mr Corbyn, who opposes any extension of the RAF’s campaign against IS in Iraq into neighbouring Syria. He was unable to even convince his shadow cabinet in a two-hour meeting yesterday.

The Labour leader wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a full two-day debate in the House of Commons before MPs decide.

Alex Salmond, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman, last night insisted Labour has now “abdicated its role” as the official opposition at Westminster.

In a statement following a the shadow cabinet meeting, a Labour spokesman said: “Shadow cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by Isis; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to Isis.”

A Labour source said the shadow cabinet was told that 57 per cent of Labour MPs are opposed to airstrikes, with 43 per cent in favour, suggesting that almost 100 could join Tories in backing military action, with about 132 following Mr Corbyn in to the No lobby.

With as many as 20-30 Conservative MPs thought to be wary of airstrikes in Syria and the SNP implacably opposed, the Prime Minister needs the support of a similar number of Labour MPs to be confident of avoiding a repeat of his 2013 defeat when he sought approval to bomb the forces of president Bashar al-Assad.

The former first minister said last night that the SNP group is “not convinced” of the case for airstrikes in Syria and is likely to vote against the action.

Mr Salmond added: “Labour have abdicated their role as the official opposition party.

“The moment that Jeremy Corbyn gave into his rebellious frontbenchers and announced a free vote he gave a green light to the Prime Minister to bomb in Syria. David Cameron will have a comfortable majority but that doesn’t make his policy right and I don’t think it’s right.

“I’ve been pretty sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn up until now because I think he’s called this issue right, but he has now abdicated the role of opposition and he’s abdicated his position as the opposition leader.”

Shortly before the shadow cabinet meeting, Labour released details of a survey of party members, which appeared to show overwhelming opposition to the extension of military action. The survey received 107,875 responses. Analysis of 1,900 responses showed 75 per cent opposed to bombing.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said the free vote was “the right decision” and the party policy remained as set out in a motion passed by its conference in September.