LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday argued that the terror attacks in Paris have bolstered the case for Britain to join air strikes in Syria, as the government unveiled an increase in defence spending. Cameron is to make his case for strikes to parliament this week and the indications are that dozens of opposition Labour MPs rebelling against their party leader could swing a subsequent vote in his favour.
“What’s going on in the world matters to the United Kingdom, so we should be helping to shape it and with today’s announcement we can do just that,” Cameron said during a visit to a Royal Air Force base in west London, referring to a boost in military budgets.
“I’ll be making a statement in parliament later this week where I will set out in full our strategy for combatting ISIL, both in Iraq and Syria,” he said, using a term for the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.
Cameron earlier on Monday visited Paris, where he met President Francois Hollande and paid homage to the 130 victims of the November 13 shootings and bombings outside the Bataclan concert venue where 90 of them died. In a speech to parliament later yesterday, Cameron was expected to pledge an extra £12 billion ($18.2 billion, 17.1 billion euros) for the military to act against threats including the Islamic State group.
The five-year Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) will include measures such as the creation of two new 5,000-strong rapid reaction strike brigades which will be available for global deployment at short notice by 2025, officials said.
‘Not some remote problem’
Writing in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the prime minister said: “As the murders on the streets of Paris reminded us so starkly, Islamic State is not some remote problem thousands of miles away; it is a direct threat to our security.”
While British forces are taking part in air strikes on IS targets in Iraq, they are not involved in the international effort targeting Syria due to resistance from opposition parties still mindful of unpopular interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Labor’s anti-war leader Jeremy Corbyn is against any military action but Cameron appears increasingly confident that he can persuade enough Labor MPs to pass the vote, particularly after last week’s United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing countries to “take all necessary measures” against IS. A Times/YouGov opinion poll last week found that 58 percent of people would approve of Britain joining air strikes on targets in Syria compared to 22 percent against.
Labor’s shadow defense minister Maria Eagle also on Monday told BBC Radio 4 that “there will be some support from the Labour party for him (Cameron) to do what he wishes” if they approve of his plan. Reports suggest the government could call a vote on the issue by the end of next week if ministers are confident of winning it.
“The prime minister would welcome support from across the House on this issue,” Cameron’s spokesman said yesterday, adding: “When the prime minister feels he has the consensus, he will go back to the House”.
Questions on police funding
The defense review being announced yesterday has been planned for months and will also include a 10-year extension to the lifespan of the Royal Air Force’s Typhoon fighter jets, which are also being upgraded to give them ground attack capabilities.
The government will also announce that counter-terrorism funding is being increased by 30 percent in Wednesday’s autumn statement delivered by finance minister George Osborne.
However, Osborne faces a row over claims from police chiefs that cuts to the number of frontline officers who do not fall under the counter-terrorism budget could increase the risk of an attack in Britain. The SDSR is underpinned by the government’s commitment to meet NATO’s defence spending target of at least two percent of gross domestic product.
That came following criticism from the armed forces after the defence budget was reduced by some eight percent since 2010 in austerity cuts designed to tackle Britain’s deficit. – AFP