Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has defended his decision to vote in favour of UK military intervention in Syria in Parliament at a talk on the University campus on 4 December.
At an event originally organised to debate the Labour party’s campaign to remain in the EU, Bradshaw was confronted by a number of protestors angry at the 55-year old’s decision to join the Shadow Labour Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn in supporting action in Syria. Protestors, many of whom belonged to the Exeter Socialist Students society, held placards and chanted “One, two, three four, we don’t want another war” at the MP as he arrived in the Forum.
Bradshaw responded by thanking attendees and described the protest as “one of the friendliest” he had ever experienced, before explaining he voted in favour of the airstrikes due to his belief that “Daesh are a real and present threat to this country.”
“We have been in action over Iraq for the last fourteen months,” he continued, “in 1300 missions and they (The RAF) have hit 330 Daesh targets without a single civilian casualty.”
Hilary Benn making the speech of his lifetime & so much more statesmanlike than Cameron #Syria
— Ben Bradshaw (@BenPBradshaw) December 2, 2015
Many of the students attending the event appeared to have little desire to debate the prospect of an EU referendum, with the majority of questions focusing on Syria and the ongoing refugee crisis. On the subject of the refugee crisis, Bradshaw stated his belief that the issues were “absolutely linked” before claiming he believed the situation had been exacerbated by failure to back military action in the past:
“I was one of only four Labour MP’s to defy the whip and not vote with Ed Miliband against military action in 2013 against Assad,” he said, “If you look at what’s happened in Syria as a result of inaction… what we have had in the last four years in Syria is the worst humanitarian crisis since the second world war and the worst refugee crisis since the second world war, and this is as a direct result of a deep failing to do anything to address the situation.”
“The aim of the 60 nation coalition against Daesh is to support the moderate forces who are still there. Any further delay in giving those moderate forces that support will lead to a situation where the Syrians have a choice between Daesh and Assad and I don’t think that’s a choice that anyone in this room would want to have to live with.”
The Exeter MP also confirmed he was in favour of other forms of intervention besides military action: “We can’t just be tackling Daesh militarily it has to be cutting off the funds that support them and also the ideology.”
“If you look at what’s happened in Syria as a result of inaction… what we have had in the last four years in Syria is the worst humanitarian crisis since the second world war and the worst refugee crisis since the second world war”
In responses to concerns from a Muslim student about potential rises in Islamophobia as a result of the decision, Bradshaw was defiant: “There is absolutely no place in our country for Islamophobia… it’s absolutely deplorable and it has to be condemned,” he said.
Speaking about the protests, Natasa Christofidou, President of Exeter Socialists said: “Exeter socialist students are in solidarity with all lives that are going to be lost as a result of politicians’ decisions to bomb Syria. Despite not organising the protest as a society, individual members had a vital role in holding our local MP, Ben Bradhshaw accountable for his vote.
“As a general note, when condemning a violent ideology, it’s ridiculously contradictory to condemn an organisation for their violent actions, when the UK go ahead and use similar means.”
Laura-Jane Tiley, Guild President, said: “My thanks to Ben Bradshaw for spending time with the students of his constituency. Although we strayed away from the intended topic of the EU, this was a valuable opportunity for student to express their views on Syria and I hope it proved informative for all. If anyone has further questions, I encourage students to contact Ben directly.”
A silent sit-in against the UK Parliaments decision to bomb Syria is set to take place in the Forum on Monday 7 December.