Cameron to Argue for Striking Islamic State as Labour Splits

  • Parliament to debate for more than 10 hours before late vote
  • Labour's Corbyn urges his lawmakers to fall in behind him

Prime Minister David Cameron will make the case for extending British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria as he asks Parliament Wednesday to back military action in a vote.

Lawmakers will debate for more than 10 hours, starting at 11:30 a.m. in London, with opinion split on both sides of the House of Commons. But the rift is much larger in the opposition Labour Party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will make the case against strikes before the foreign-affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, makes the case for them.

Cameron is likely to win the vote with the “clear majority” that he said last week he wanted, with the bulk of his Conservative Party backing the motion. Corbyn’s already weak authority over his lawmakers may be further dented if a large proportion of Labour members of Parliament, especially senior figures, vote against him, even though he’s agreed they can vote according to their consciences. He warned them Tuesday of the possible consequences of their actions.

“The vast majority of party members are opposed to the war in Syria; the majority of Labour members of Parliament are opposed to the war in Syria,” Corbyn told Sky News television. “Every member has their responsibility tomorrow to make their decision on whether this country goes to war again or not.”

Brimstone Missiles

Cameron and others who back extending strikes in the wake of last month’s Paris terrorist attacks argue that they are supported by a United Nations resolution, and that allies including France and the U.S. have asked for Britain’s help. Royal Air Force Tornado jets are equipped with extremely precise Brimstone missiles that can reduce civilian casualties, the government argues. Corbyn and opponents of action say efforts should be focused on diplomacy to resolve the conflict in Syria, where Islamic State, also known as Isil, has its base.

The motion being put to lawmakers “talks about, yes, the necessity of taking military action against Isil in Syria as well as Iraq, but it is part of a broader strategy,” Cameron told reporters Tuesday. “It’s about politics and diplomacy and humanitarian aid, all of which we need to bring to bear to bring peace to Syria but to make sure we protect our national interest of fighting against this appalling terrorist organization.”

At a meeting of Labour lawmakers on Monday night, several attacked Corbyn for encouraging individual party members to lobby them to oppose military action. Some have expressed concern that Corbyn will encourage local membership groups to effectively prevent lawmakers who are disloyal to him from running for Parliament again. Before he became leader, though, Corbyn was one of the most rebellious of all Labour lawmakers, regularly voting against his party line.

‘More Difficult’

“Do I want all Labour MPs to vote against the war? Obviously I do. Obviously I will continue to try to encourage them in that direction,” Corbyn told BBC Television. “Some people are more difficult to persuade than others and I look forward to them being persuaded.”

Support among voters for extending airstrikes has fallen to 48 percent from 59 percent in the past week, according to a YouGov Plc poll for the London-based Times newspaper. YouGov questioned 1,657 adults Monday and Tuesday. It didn’t specify a margin of error.

Opponents of action have tabled a “reasoned amendment” to Cameron’s motion. If that’s accepted, then there will be two votes, first on the amendment, which Cameron will oppose, and then on Cameron’s motion, at about 10 p.m. in London.

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