Britain faces the “simple question” of whether to launch airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Syria or wait for the group to attack the country, Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday as he pressed for legislative backing for military action.
“I’m not pretending that the answers are simple,” he said at the start of 10 hours of planned debate on the matter.
“The situation in Syria is incredibly complex. The question before the house today is how we keep the British people safe from the threat posed by ISIL,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Cameron is expected to win overwhelming parliamentary support for his proposal. It comes two years after a previous effort by Cameron to win backing for strikes in Syria failed, a key contributing factor to the decision by Western forces not to launch strikes against Syria’s government in response to its use of chemical weapons.
Public opinion in Britain has shifted since 2013, however, especially after the deadly November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, which prompted France to push for intensified strikes against Islamic State forces.
Cameron also used his speech Wednesday to remind Britons of Islamic State backing for attacks in Tunisia earlier this year that claimed the lives of numerous British tourists.
“This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism, it’s about how best we do that,” he said. “We face a fundamental threat.”
He noted that, since November 2014, British security services have foiled seven terrorist attacks.
“The question is this: Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat … Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?”
He added that the decision to send British forces would be about more than just sending moral support. He said British forces have some of the best precision strike aircraft in Europe, meaning a British contribution would make attacks against Islamic State in Syria more effective.
The proposal enjoys wide support in Parliament, with backing expected not just from Cameron’s Conservative Party, but also members of the Labour, Liberal Democrats and Democratic Unionist parties.
The only controversy was indignation by some pacifist members of the legislature at earlier comments by Cameron in which he denounced opponents of the plan as “terrorist sympathizers.”
Parliament vote in 2014 to allow the British army to attack Islamic State forces in Iraq. Assuming Parliament backs Cameron’s request, it would join an existing US-led coalition conducting airstrikes in neighbouring Syria designed to impede Islamic State militants.
Islamic State forces control large stretches of Iraq and Syria, where they have moved to set up a separate state adhering to strict Islamic law. However, the group has been on the back foot militarily at times in recent months, thanks to attacks from US allied forces, Russian forces, the Syrian government and other rebel forces on the ground.
The vote is expected to come around 2200 GMT, after about 10 hours of scheduled debate.