Sir David Davis opposes Syria intervention in House of Commons debate


Sir David Davis last night (29 August 2013) voted against UK military intervention in Syria.  This is the full text of his speech in the House of Commons debate.

“When the Prime Minister wanted to take military action in Libya, most of us supported him because there was a clear moral imperative: if we had not acted tens of thousands of lives would quickly have been lost.

That clear moral imperative does not stand in the action we are countenancing.

 There is no doubt that the Assad regime is evil, but that is not our casus belli: our casus belli is the monstrous crime of killing hundreds, perhaps more, of civilians with nerve gas. The use of chemical weapons is not the first monstrous crime of this regime: at least 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war, most of whom were civilians.

Death by dismemberment, burning, being crushed under falling buildings, gangrene or all the other outcomes of the use of conventional weapons is no better than death by nerve gas—these are monstrosities, however they are delivered. In moral, as against legal, terms many people will rightly, as they have in this debate, ask: why intervene now?

To press their case, the Government and American Government, now supported by the JIC, have asserted, in effect, that the gassing of a large number of Syrian civilians could have been carried out only by the Assad regime.  Perhaps.

There are three possibilities.

The first, and probably the most likely, is that nerve gas was deployed by Assad, but even the JIC says that this is an irrational and incomprehensible act. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) pinned that perfectly.

Another possibility is that it could have been done by a rogue or panicky military unit in the Syrian army without Assad’s knowledge—that may be the most likely explanation—or it could have been done by the Syrian rebels with the direct aim of dragging the west into the war. These are the only people who have a clear motive that fits the crime. The JIC discounted that last possibility, but there are many reasons for us to worry about this concern. We do not want to be conned into a war, in effect, by actions designed to do just that.

 There are plenty of facts around, or at least reported facts. It is reported that the UN representative for  human rights for Syria thought there was concrete evidence of rebels having sarin gas. There were reports that the Turkish authorities arrested 12 al- Nusra fighters with 2 kg of sarin gas, and other reports that Hezbollah fighters are in Beirut hospitals suffering from the effects of sarin gas.

A number of people, most notably my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, have said that we must have clear evidence to show the House that, if there is a casus belli, it is real, not confected or constructed. That may mean more aggressive disclosure of intelligence than we would normally have. Given where we have been before in this House, we must consider that our intelligence as it stands might just be wrong. It was before, and we must test it rigorously.  

There is plenty of forensic evidence that will come out of the UN investigation and out of other data that we can obtain by other methods. It is not a question of panic; it is a question of getting the facts right before we act. It is very simple: when we are going to do things which will lead to the death of people, civilians in particular, we should get our facts right first.

That brings me to the Deputy Prime Minister on the “Today”programme this morning, talking about chemical weapons and saying—let me quote him exactly—that it is  “the first time in close to a century” that we have seen —in Syria, he means— “the ever more frequent use of chemical weapons.”

I recommend that he speaks to our American allies. The CIA has recently declassified and published its information on Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war, in which the west provided intelligence data in order for the Iraqis to be able to target their activities more effectively, killing 50,000 Iranians.

How will our stance now be seen on the Iranian street? What will the pressures be on the Iranian Government when we make our holier-than-thou arguments about chemicalwarfare now?

I do not have time to conclude the arguments that I want to put. I will make one last point. Putin has said that the reason he provided anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrians was, in his words, to balance the war and prevent external intervention. What will his response be if we attack Syria? His response will be to feed this war more weapons, more deaths.”