Labour remains opposed to the UK taking part in airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria, but might support wider international military action without the need for UN approval, the shadow justice secretary, has said.
Lord Falconer clarified the party’s position in the wake of the Paris attacks, as David Cameron came under renewed pressure to join the US, France and others in bombing Isis in its Syrian stronghold.
Isis has claimed responsibility for the atrocities in the French capital, citing France’s prominent role in the military campaign in Syria.
Downing Street had all but abandoned efforts to seek a parliamentary majority for airstrikes in Syria because Labour and a number of Tory backbenchers were opposed the move.
Some, however, including Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister, have said the Paris attacks are a wakeup call for the UK to play a greater military role in confronting Isis.
Falconer, however, who also served as a minister under Tony Blair, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Just immediately bombing Raqqa … would not be the answer. What is required is a plan that covers the whole of the Middle East, but also deals with the Syrian situation.
“It cannot be done without there being a major international effort. That is what needs now to be looked at, and looked at as a matter of urgency. And it needs to be looked at in a way that convinces the people of Britain.”
He also said airstrikes would not be enough to defeat Isis.
“You need a plan, and that plan has got to deal with the Syrian issue. I’m not urging troops on the ground, but ultimately Isis have to be defeated. It can’t just be from the air,” he said.
Labour has previously said it would only support military action in Syria if it were backed by a UN resolution. Russia, however, has blocked such a move and is opposed to the removal of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
Labour hinted at easing its position last month when the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, said: “Of course, we know that any resolution may be vetoed, and in those circumstances we would need to look at the position again.”
Falconer confirmed this explicitly on Sunday, saying that Labour might support international action without formal UN approval, potentiallyinvolving Nato. Article five of the alliance’s charter, states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
“(Isis can only be defeated by the international community as a whole, if possible through a UN sponsored process, but if not that, then nations come together,” he told the BBC.
“I think Nato will be a part of it. It is much too early to say whether it is appropriate or possible to evoke article five, but Nato will be part of the group of nations that have got to come together to look at it.”
Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary, insisted that the agreed Labour position was to require UN approval.
“As far as Labour’s policy in relation to Syria, we actually discussed this at party conference and we have a policy. We agree to bombing Syria first of all if there’s a UN resolution.
“Also, and this is my particular concern, if there’s a plan to deal with the refugees that will result from military action,” she told the Murnaghan programme on Sky News.
A number of Conservatives, including the chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, Crispin Blunt, are also standing firm in their opposition to airstrikes on Syria without a wider international plan, arguing that it would merely be symbolic gesture.
Blunt said the UK would face an increased terror threat if it took part in bombing raids on the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, but that was the “least respectable” reason among many others for not taking part.
He told the BBC’s Pienaar’s Politics that efforts to reach an international consensus on Syria must be redoubled, and that progress towards a transitional arrangement had been made at talks in Vienna.
After the Paris attacks, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the leading critics of the Iraq war, cancelled an engagement at which he was to warn about the dangers of the UK’s involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts.
He was due to say: “For the past 14 years, Britain has been at the centre of a succession of disastrous wars that have brought devastation to large parts of the wider Middle East. They have increased, not diminished, the threats to our own national security in the process.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Sunday 15th November 2015 13.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010