Hilary Benn calls for political solution in Middle East crisis


Extending the British air campaign against Islamic State (IS) into Syria appears unlikely despite the jihadi group carrying out the atrocity in Paris.

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn insisted the focus should be on finding a political solution to the crisis in the Middle East state before extending military action.

He said the situation could not be solved "just by dropping bombs" on IS strongholds.

The Government's position - repeated by Theresa May today - is that no proposals to extend the RAF's mission against IS into Syria will be put to the vote in the House of Commons unless there was a "consensus" behind them.

David Cameron is unlikely to put any proposal to the Commons unless he could be confident of support from a significant number of Labour MPs.

Asked if the UK should target IS - also known as Isil and Daesh - in Syria as a show of solidarity with France, Mr Benn told Sky News' Murnaghan programme: "We are already participating in this big coalition to try and end the threat from Isil/Daesh which is the immediate priority in Iraq, and we saw last week the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces, re-took Sinjar - that was with support from the air and also troops on the ground.

"The position in Syria is different because there is this terrible civil war going on and the thing that we need to do as quickly as we can is to bring that civil war to an end."

If that happens, "all of the parties can turn their attention" on defeating IS, he said.

Mr Benn said Labour would consider any proposal put forward by the Government but "there has to be a comprehensive plan if you are really going to end the threat from Isil/Daesh and that needs to come forward".

"If the Government wants to bring that forward, then we would look at it," he said.

"But I'm afraid you are not going to defeat Isil/Daesh in Syria just by dropping bombs."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday cancelled a speech in the wake of the Paris attacks, in which he would have suggested that British bombing operations against Islamic State (IS) had contributed to an increased threat to national security.

Shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "The foreign policy of all of the developed world has not worked. We need to think about what we do now.

"I think the key message at the moment has got to be, first of all everything has got to be done to protect our citizens.

"Secondly, everything has got to be done - and the whole Labour Party agrees with this - to bring an end to Isil.

"Thirdly, it's got to be done in a way that involves the international community because it can only be done by the international community as a whole."

He added: "The foreign policy overall that has been adopted has not worked. Whether or not there should be an intervention here or not intervention there, it's very difficult to know what the right answer in relation to that is.

"But it is really important that the international community comes together at this particular point to deal with Isil."

Asked whether the Paris attacks had changed the mood in Labour over airstrikes in Syria, he said: "I think everybody is now thinking that the right thing to do is to take stock.

"It means, for the Government, I think they have got to talk to allies, assess how this changes things.

"The Russian intervention in Syria has also changed things. I think what is now required is a detailed plan to be brought forward.

"I don't think anybody in the political world in the UK will not think what's happened in Paris is something that makes one stop and think about what the right course is now in relation to how you deal with Isil.

"I think it is really important that we genuinely seek some degree of unity in relation to this because the threat that Isil pose was demonstrated in France on Friday.

"We have got to get together as a nation and work as strongly as possible."

He added:  "Jeremy Corbyn and I are absolutely clear we must do everything we possibly can to end Isil.

"How that is to be done is the debate that now has to be had and we want to participate strongly in that debate.

"The first thing that needs to be done is for Britain to talk to its international allies and see what is possible because, ultimately, just immediately bombing Raqqa with the UK will not be the answer. What is required is a plan that covers the whole of the Middle East but also deals with the Syrian situation."