The last fortnight has been really tough. I’ve been watching and reading the news from Syria like most people but as Parliament has been in recess I’ve missed the chance to track down experts, consult colleagues and hunt down ministers to get answers to the many questions swirling around my head.
We are in an unbelievably complex situation and as is often the case as an MP of less than three years, I am having to make decisions today that are the result of mistakes, interventions and failures of past generations of policy-makers and leaders around the world.
The previous time I voted on Syria was back in 2015. That was very different to the current situation. Back then it was to launch a sustained campaign against Daesh / “Islamic State” who were controlling about a third of Syria.
Since that time the RAF have launched over 1,700 missions: Daesh-held territory has reduced, women being sold in markets for sex has all but ended, internet propaganda and filmed executions from the area have been blocked and the money-generating sale of oil has stopped.
In all this intervention by our RAF, who have put themselves in terrible danger every day since that vote, there has not been a single confirmed civilian death caused by their action.
That vote weighed very heavily on me and I sought out and took advantage of the briefings for MPs by the military, MoD and ministers ever since. I know that I need to learn and keep learning from this kind of action and I take it really seriously.
The last fortnight’s news has concerned the other two thirds of Syria. Rebels have been trying to free themselves of Assad ever since the Arab Spring and at one point occupied a third of the country. Assad, who once faced defeat, has advanced ever since the Russians started backing him with their military.
Several times now, chemical weapons have been used. Not only that, they have not been used against the rebel army or those engaged in military action. They have been used against innocent civilians, almost certainly to strike fear into communities who will soon be ruled by Assad once more.
To put this into perspective, more people have been murdered by chemical weapons in Syria in the last fortnight than have been accepted to America as refugees since the war in Syria began. This not only tells you how evil Daesh and Assad’s regime are, it shows how the west has failed those who have understandably tried to flee his terror.
Syria is a mess and millions of citizens, fellow human beings, are suffering unimaginably as a result.
So, as your MP what do I think of the action by America, France and the UK this weekend?
I am conflicted and here is why. Knowingly murdering civilians is a war crime whatever weapons are used. However, chemical weapons inflict a pain and suffering that is beyond any of our imagining, sometimes taking years to inflict death. That is why the entire world has not used them in conflict since the First World War.
If there was no response to their use now then we would all pay the price going forward because that convention would be overturned.
Authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world are watching, like Burma who are persecuting the Rohingya people, and the message they would receive would be clear: use these weapons and there would be no consequences, either militarily or at the UN Security Council where resolutions condemning their use are struck down by Russia unless they are able to veto the wording of any independent inquiry.
But then there is another aspect which deeply worries me and that is our government’s approach to Syria in general and the people in charge of it.
Military action is no replacement for a long-term strategy to deal with a country like Syria. A strategy requires resolute, steadfast and determined diplomacy at the global level at the UN right down to how ministers speak and act locally here in the UK. That includes consistency and clarity of vision. These have been woefully lacking.
I particularly lack confidence in two key ministers, Gavin Williamson at Defence and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office. They lack the temperament for devising and delivering a strategy and I would go further and say they even lack the maturity for the extremely difficult positions they hold in government. I simply don’t trust either of them.
On balance, however, it was right to take a stand against the use of chemical weapons. It is a line that must not be crossed by any government in any country ever again. If it is, then a response must be provoked – ideally economic or diplomatic but as a last resort by force – that punishes any government that does, irrespective of where they are or their importance to Britain.
As a single backbench MP I am overcome with the frustration of what I am unable to do right now.
I can’t make government, which is so consumed by Brexit, focus properly on issues like this which have real importance to us and the entire planet. I can’t make them devise a refugee policy which offers sanctuary here to a fair and realistic number of Syrians fleeing the twin horrors of Daesh and Assad nor give more support to the two million in Lebanon or the thousands living in squalor on Lesbos or mainland Greece.
Nor can I make government set out a clear, achievable, diplomatic strategy, supported by our allies, to bring peace and stability to Syria and the region.
But I promise you this: I will never stop trying.
Today I will speak in the Commons to make as many of these points directly to the Prime Minister as possible and I will work with other MPs who care as much about the humanitarian consequences of war and the need to enforce international rules as I do.
And I will always be here to talk honestly with you about my views and to listen respectfully to yours.