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UK govt lobbies opposition to force Syria airstrikes vote


British PM, David Cameron

British PM, David Cameron

Britain’s defence minister on Sunday said the government was intensively lobbying opposition Labour lawmakers to support airstrikes in Syria as efforts mount to force a vote next week.

Michael Fallon told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “we’ve been talking to Labour MPs all week” but that the government had “not yet” secured enough support to be sure of winning a vote to extend airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat in 2013 when opposition from Labour MPs blocked military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and is expected to call a vote only when he is sure of winning.

Another defeat would be “hugely damaging to Britain’s reputation across the world” and would “leave us less safe”, said Fallon.

The defence secretary said fears that airstrikes would lead to civilian deaths were unfounded.

“The RAF have been striking with the permission of parliament in Iraq for over a year now and our estimate is there hasn’t yet been a single civilian casualty because of the precision of their strikes,” he said.

“They have been carefully targeted at Isil command posts, Isil supplies, Isil supply routes,” he said, using one of the acronyms for Islamic State.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to the strikes and could whip his MPs into voting against them, despite many in the shadow cabinet expressing support for the government’s plans.

Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that he would ultimately decide whether MPs were allowed a free vote, putting him on a collision course with senior parliamentarians and potentially throwing the government’s plans into disarray.

Prime Minister David Cameron is reported to be ready to drop the vote if Corbyn imposes his line on Labour lawmakers.

Labour leaders are set to meet on Monday, where they are set to decide whether it will be a free vote.

“No decision has been made on that yet, I am going to find out what MPs think,” Corbyn said. “I ask them to look very, very carefully at the whole issue, look at what will happen if we bomb Raqqa.

“It is the leader who decides. I will make up my mind in due course.”

Corbyn on Sunday highlighted the support he had from grassroot members, who helped propel him to a shock victory in September’s race for the party leadership, insisting that their “voice” must be heard.

He also dismissed intelligence advice that IS was using safe space in Syria to hatch terror attacks against Britain, saying that “those attacks could be planned anywhere”.

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