BOMBING Raqqa will see a large number of civilians killed, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn warned yesterday.
He was asked by Andrew Marr: ‘What do you say to Labour colleagues in the shadow cabinet who are now convinced the case has been made for war?’ Corbyn said that he asked them to look at the message ‘from the people that live in Raqqa who say there’s going to be large numbers of civilian casualties, however precise these bombs are’.
He added: ‘There is no second plan, there is no effective ground force to back it up. The government will then be relying on groups in the Free Syrian Army, apparently, who are hundreds of miles away, whose main interest is fighting Assad anyway. The government is now asking us to link up with lots of forces in Syria to oppose ISIL. It asked us two years ago to fight Assad, we seem to be changing sides.’
Corbyn was was asked if he is against bombing in Syria under all circumstances. He said: ‘I don’t think it will help solve the problem. What will help is the political process, which is encouraging but very slow – what’s happening in Vienna. The other one is cutting off arms, oil sales and money to ISIL. That is an area I think no government has done enough of.’
Referring to the Paris attacks, he warned that bombing Raqqa ‘may not in effect do very much damage to ISIL and actually may make the situation worse’, adding ‘where there is no follow-up plan these situations can be very dangerous’. Asked about divisions in the shadow cabinet, he said he had sent an email to party members, and ‘70,000 have already replied with their views.’
Corbyn stressed: ‘Surely we must recognise that, in a democracy, the Labour Party has a very large membership, nearly 400,000 members, they will want to express their point of view, and MPs have to listen to it.’ Shadow cabinet discussions are continuing today and shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said there should be a free vote, as has Ken Livingstone.
Corbyn was asked: ‘Diane Abbott says this decision on whipping or not whipping is for the leader, is for you alone. But there’s been a suggestion that actually it is something that could be decided by the shadow cabinet, so which is it?’ Corbyn confirmed: ‘It’s the leader who decides.’ Marr pressed him: ‘And you will make up your mind when?’ Corbyn said: ‘I’ll make up my mind in due course.’
To later questions, Corbyn warned against going into ‘a bombing operation supported by ground forces hundreds of miles away, some of whom are jihadists, who aren’t any reliable allies anyway’, adding, ‘I seriously question the number’ of 70,000 claimed by Cameron.
Later, Tory defence secretary Michael Fallon confirmed ministers are phoning Labour MPs to support air strikes against ISIL in Syria, but are not yet confident of winning the vote, saying ‘we’ve got to keep building the case’.
Cameron has said he will not hold a vote unless he is confident of winning, fearing his premiership is at risk if he loses. Fallon claimed the issue is one of ‘self-defence’ and that ‘we are already a top target’ for ISIL in the UK.