Commons votes for air strikes as Benn’s ‘truly great’ speech earns standing ovation

Hilary Benn
Hilary Benn
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ATTACKS ON Syria are hours away tonight after Britain declared war on so-called Islamic State in Syria following the Prime Minister’s impassioned plea to MPs.

Following a momentous 11-hour debate on air strikes in the House of Commons last night, David Cameron is now the first leader of a Conservative majority Government in almost two decades to sanction action in the Middle East.

His decision extends the current British bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria.

Shadow Foreign Secretary and Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn made history of his own last night after receiving a standing ovation for what is tipped to be one of the ‘truely great speeches’ ever heard in the House of Commons.

Mr Benn paid tribute to anti-strikes Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but said the country was now faced with a threat from ‘fascists’ and UN backing made it imperative to act.

Of his party, he said: “We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road.”

The Government won the vote with 397 MPs in favour of strikes to 223 against, and as The Yorkshire Post went to press it was understood that around 60 Labour MPs had voted with the Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron said during the debate: “The action we propose is legal, necessary and the right thing to do to keep our country safe.”

From now on he said people must use the phrase Daesh when referring to IS, so as to remove their association with the religion Islam and statehood.

Yet bitter memories of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan shrouded discussions in the Commons, and concerns continue today on Mr Cameron’s insistence that 70,000 ideologically moderate ground troops will back Britain’s air campaign.

The success of Iraqi strikes, the funding of Daesh, and Turkey’s purchasing of barrels of oil remain a key concern for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who continued to make the case to pull back from military intervention, despite giving his members a free vote.

In some of the most charged language of the debate Mr Cameron said Britain’s counter extremism strategy, as part of his broad strategy to combat Daesh, would not lead to the further radicalisation of British Muslims.

He said: “British Muslims are appalled by Daesh. These women-raping, Muslim murdering, medieval monsters...they are hi-jacking the peacful religion of Islam for their warped ends.”

The Prime Minister will ramp up efforts to tackle the financing of extremists in the UK, and also accepted a plea from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron to look again at the plight of Syrian orphans.

While Mr Cameron condeded that the 70,000 ground troops were “not ideal’ and ‘not as many as we would have liked’, the information from the intelligence committee gave him confidence. However a Labour spokesperson said: “The question of ground forces has completely fallen apart.”

Diane Abbott, shadow cabinet member and a close ally of Mr Corbyn, said no Labour MPs would face action over their decision not to vote in the way the leader would have wanted.

The evening will be remembered for Mr Benn’s speech which was greeted by cries of ‘brilliant’ and a standing ovation.

Addressing his party directly, Mr Benn said: “We must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria.

“And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion tonight.”

The end of his speech was greeted by a sustained period of applause and shouts of brilliant.

Mr Benn had told his party that “we have always been defined by our internationalism”.

And in a speech which was, at times, delivered in scarcely more than a whisper to a rapt House of Commons,he told Labour “we never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road”.

“And we are here faced by fascists,” he said.

“Not just their calculated brutality but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all of the people that we represent.

“They hold us in contempt.

“They hold our values in contempt.

“They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt.

“They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt.

“And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.”

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised Mr Benn as he began his concluding remarks. “That will go down as one of the truly great speeches made in this House of Commons,” he said.

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