UK Politics

Syria air strikes: Corbyn says France and US should focus on peace

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Media caption'Bombing Raqqa won't solve problem'

France and the United States should "put their efforts into" finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian civil war, Jeremy Corbyn has told the BBC.

The Labour leader said he looked forward to his MPs "being persuaded" to back his opposition to UK air strikes in Syria ahead of Wednesday's vote.

He was forced to offer a free vote to MPs after a shadow cabinet rebellion.

David Cameron has urged MPs of all parties to back his case for strikes against so-called Islamic State.

The government has published the motion to be voted on, which says military action is "only one component of a broader strategy" to tackle IS.

The motion would specifically authorise air strikes "exclusively" against IS in Syria and says the UK government will not deploy troops in "ground combat operations".

According to the BBC's latest research, 360 MPs are in favour of the motion while 170 are against. Of the remainder, 20 are "leaning to" supporting the government, three are "leaning against" while 87 are undecided.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed her party's 54 MPs will be opposing air strikes, saying bombing on its own will not rid the threat of terrorism or bring peace to Syria.

But the Democratic Unionist Party has said its eight MPs will support airstrikes and former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said the Lib Dems will follow suit, telling Sky News that it was "on balance better to take action than pursue a course of inaction".

In an interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Corbyn said it had been an "interesting 24 hours" during which he had abandoned a bid to adopt a party policy of opposition to air strikes after a number of his front benchers protested.

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "Isil is a threat to our country and this is the right thing to do"

His approach was criticised after he wrote to MPs setting out his opposition to intervention before the shadow cabinet had finalised its position.

As many as 50 Labour MPs are expected to vote with the government, which is likely to give it a comfortable majority backing air strikes.

Mr Corbyn, who earlier appealed to his frontbench to "think again", said MPs "must bear in mind what the public think and what the implications are for this country".

He added that more than 75% of Labour members polled by the party had indicated they were opposed to air strikes.

Asked about his failure to convince his shadow cabinet to back his position, he said: "Some people are more difficult to persuade than others, and I look forward to them being persuaded."

'Only alternative'

Rather than air strikes, Mr Corbyn said efforts should focus on a political settlement and achieving a "credible line of government" across Syria.

He said he was not saying he would "never" back military action, but said it had to be the "only alternative" and that this was not the case with Wednesday's vote.

Asked whether, if he was prime minister, he would urge France and the United States - which are already bombing IS in Syria - to stop, he said: "I would ask them to put their efforts into a peace process."

He added: "I would ask them to join in looking for the way in which we can achieve a political solution to the Syria civil war as the best way forward of solving that problem."

Air strikes, he said, were "not a sensible or rational way forward", adding it "takes us yet again into another conflict".

MPs rejected air strikes against Syrian government targets in 2013, but have since backed strikes against IS in Iraq.

70,000 troops claim

Ministers say it is "illogical" to carry out strikes in Iraq but not Syria as IS does not recognise the border between the countries.

One of the key debating points has been Mr Cameron's claim there are 70,000 moderate ground forces able to fight IS in Syria.

The prime minister's spokeswoman said a claim by Labour MP Louise Haigh that the national security advisor had briefed MPs that 30,000 of the 70,000 were "much more radical Islamists" was a misrepresentation of what he had said.

Ms Haigh made the comment on Twitter, and was challenged by other MPs who had been at the briefing. She later insisted the government must "be clearer about the make-up" of the 70,000 figure.

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