Downing Street cool on MPs' Syria safe haven proposal

Posted On: 
12th October 2015

Downing Street has talked down a cross-party proposal aimed at protecting Syrian civilians at the heart of the country’s conflict.

Labour MP Jo Cox and Conservative former minister Andrew Mitchell suggested troops could enforce “safe havens” for Syrians within their own country, alongside no-fly zones and strikes on so-called Islamic State targets.

But Number 10 appeared unconvinced the plan could “provide greater safety” to those suffering in the region.

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A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said it was right to consider such proposals, but that “you have to come back to what’s the objective here”.

“If the objective is the better protection of civilians, you need to make sure you can [conduct it] in a way where that’s what you’re delivering,” the spokesperson said.

“And I think with a number of proposals on the table there’s quite a lot of complexities that need to be worked through to make sure they are making areas safer and not putting Syrian civilians at greater risk.

“At the moment, there is more detail and issues to be worked through and to look at such that you would be confident that they will provide greater safety.”

COX BULLISH ON UN RESOLUTION

MP for Batley and Spen Ms Cox also dismissed a vote by Labour members saying the party should not back military action in Syria without a UN intervention.

Delegates at the party’s annual conference supported a proposal for “clear and unambiguous” UN authorisation if RAF strikes are to extend from Iraq into Syria.

But the new intake MP said UN authorisation should not “be a limit” to a military component in the UK’s approach to the crisis.

She suggested Russia and China’s permanent places on the UN Security Council would make such a resolution “difficult”.

Ms Cox told the BBC’s Daily Politics: “I don’t think we as a party should let China and Russia stop international action to save lives in Syria.

“They have vetoed, three times, action in Syria. And each time that is vetoed the crisis has escalated and escalated...

“I always back UN action when we can find it. I do not think it should be a limit though to our attempts to help.”

THE PROPOSAL

Outlining their proposal for tackling the conflict in the Observer yesterday, Ms Cox and Mr Mitchell wrote:

“It is not ethical to wish away the barrel bombs from the Syrian government when you have the capacity to stop them.

“The deaths and fear generated by these indiscriminate air attacks are the main drivers of the refugee crisis in Europe.

“Nor is it ethical to watch when villages are overrun by Isis fighters, who make sex slaves of children and slaughter their fellow Muslims, when we have the capability to hold them back.”

Senior Labour sources have told the Observer that between 50 and 100 of the party’s MPs could support such action.

Ms Cox, a former head of policy at Oxfam, is launching an all-party group on Syria this week.

David Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have been making the case for Britain to extend airstrikes, which are currently being conducted against IS in Iraq, into Syria.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he would oppose military action, but indicated his MPs could get a free vote on the issue.