Alan speaks in ISIS air strikes debate

  • Dec 2, 2015

Alan has spoken in the House of Commons in favour of the proposed air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria. His speech is below:



Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): As all of us are trying to show responsibility and duty, I do not think there is anybody on either side of the House who in any way relishes the decision we are being asked to take today. It is not straightforward, like the response to the invasions of Kuwait and the Falklands. It is a very difficult decision we are being asked to take, and in taking it we must have two issues in the forefront of our thinking: first, the security of our own country and, secondly, the desperate need to restore stability in the Middle East.

But rather than rehearse all the arguments, I would just like to emphasise a few points which I would ask the House solemnly to consider. The question of whether to commit our armed forces has over the last few years become seriously muddied both by the painful experience of past decisions and by the complexity of the unfolding disorder across the Arab world. The experience of Afghanistan in part—to which the Leader of the Opposition referred—and of Iraq more significantly, has led to growing reticence, and indeed distrust, in this House and outside it about any proposal for military action. So the first point I would like to emphasise is that we must take the decision today based on the merits of today; we must base it on today’s facts and not on yesterday’s mistakes and regrets.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Alan Duncan: Before giving way quickly, may I politely point out to the Stop the War Coalition that when it comes to Syria, stopping the war is exactly what we want to do.

Mrs Moon: I absolutely agree that what we need are facts and greater clarity about our capability to take on the task that is ahead of us. Yesterday we were told there were between 20,000 and 30,000 Daesh across Syria and Iraq, but I could not be given a number as to how many Taliban we were fighting in Afghanistan, to get a comparator, when we had 10,000 of our troops and 30,000 Americans fighting them. I could not get that, and I could not get an answer as to how often we had used our Brimstone missiles and how many more planes we would be flying. Don’t we need those questions answered?

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but interventions must be brief; they must not be mini-speeches, however well intentioned.

Sir Alan Duncan: May I implore the hon. Lady to appreciate that the search for certainty in the Middle East is a vain hope? The watchword I learned 30 years ago when I first went there was, “If you’re not confused, you don’t understand.” It is a very complex world in which we are deciding to act.

Let me move on to my second point. Again, I address this to the Leader of the Opposition: we must not underestimate the extent and nature of the danger we face, and say that because it is all over there, it is not over here. The phenomenon of ISIS/Daesh is not only a vicious force running rampant through that miserable space between Iraq and Syria; it is also fuelling those who would readily walk up the main street of a major city with a suicide bomb or carrying a Kalashnikov. So I urge those who say that air strikes would increase that danger not to give into that narrative: these people are already targeting us now.

Thirdly, we have to see this threat in the context of even greater regional dangers. We are witnessing the collapse of nation states across potentially the whole of Arabia, along with the violent release of centuries of sectarian hatred. A crucial element of our policy should be to try to stop this spreading. That means that we must support stable rule within the six countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council. Those who just attack the conduct of our Gulf allies simply do not understand the horror that would be unleashed by further instability in the region. Even now, we face the real prospect of an arc of brutality and terrorism stretching from Syria, through Iraq to Yemen, and right across in a terrifying link with the horn of Africa.

Fourthly, we cannot turn away from this threat and subcontract our obligations. If we are to pursue the destruction of ISIS/Daesh, rebuild stable government, underpin wider stability and make all of that a serious and convincing objective of our foreign policy, we must be part of the convoy that is trying to do it. We cannot negligently—as I would see it—watch it roll by while not playing our part. Put frankly, our international reputation has suffered from the parliamentary vote in August 2013. Our allies now question whether we can be relied upon when they call for joint assistance. If we choose today to remain on the sidelines, especially when a new and unequivocal UN resolution is in place, it will signal to the world that the UK has, indeed, chosen to withdraw. We should not be in the business of national resignation from the world stage. Perhaps the paradox of our position today is not that we are doing too much, but that we are doing too little.

If I do have a concern—again, I look directly at the Leader of the Opposition—it is that the action I hope we will vote for tonight is not the whole answer, and the Prime Minister is not pretending that it is. The hope that local, so-called moderate forces can do the job on the ground and somehow put Humpty Dumpty together again is, of course, more of an act of faith than a certain plan, but it is wrong for the Leader of the Opposition to dismiss their significance and conclude that their composition is sufficient reason to do nothing.

I think we should carry this motion tonight. We have to carry it with our eyes open, knowing that we are flying into a mess that shows no easy prospect of being quickly resolved, but we cannot leave a vile force unchallenged. These air strikes do matter. I believe they are justified, but I also think that the future judgment of the Prime Minister about what then follows will eventually become more important than the decision we will take tonight.