Michael Fallon is making the case to MPs today for British airstrikes against Isis in Syria. The Defence Secretary yesterday told the World at One that ‘It is a new parliament and I think Members of Parliament will want to think very carefully about how we best deal with Isil and illogicality of Isil not respecting the borderlines’. He is expected to make a statement at some point today urging MPs to do this thinking, either in the scheduled Commons debate on Britain and International Security, or separately.
Given there is no permanent Labour leader in place yet, it is unlikely that a vote on action in Syria – if the government does decide to pursue this action – will take place until after the summer recess, which does give Fallon and the whips time to really sound out colleagues, rather than rush into something at the end of the summer recess, as the government did with the ill-fated vote on strikes against President Assad in Syria in 2013. Given the Labour leader is not announced until 12 September, there will also be time back in the Commons for the government to test the mood again. If this vote takes place at all, it will have to follow the extremely thorough testing of the mood of the Tory party that didn’t take place before the failed vote that left David Cameron so bruised previously.
But being thorough won’t necessarily be enough to convince MPs – and neither will initially sympathetic noises from Labour, which after all offered initially sympathetic noises last time round, only to refuse the Prime Minister the support he needed. Fallon has a strong case about the ‘illogicality’ of tackling Isis in one country but not another, but the difference between Iraq and Syria is, as Tory MP Crispin Blunt reminded us on the Today programme this morning, that the former’s Prime Minister asked for military intervention against the terrorist group, whereas President Assad isn’t exactly what you’d call an ally of this country – given the last vote was on bombing him, not his enemies, who now turn out to include some of our enemies too.
Still, even though we do not have proof that the ‘mood’ in Parliament on military intervention in Syria has changed (even if the question is quite different, and the subjects of the intervention quite different), there is quite clearly now a shift in mood at the top of the Conservative party at least. In the last Parliament, David Cameron’s colleagues said he had ‘lost his appetite’ for another vote concerning Syria. There were strong denials when it was reported that the whips were sounding out MPs on what they thought about action in Syria when they prepared for the vote on Iraq last autumn. But now the Defence Secretary is talking openly about it on the airwaves and in the Commons today. Something has changed, but whether it will lead to strikes against the terrorists in Syria is not yet clear.