British lawmakers on Wednesday voted 397-223 to join the US and other nations in a bombing campaign against ISIS — aka the Islamic State — in Syria.
The vote came directly after a speech from Hilary Benn, the UK Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, which Conservative Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called “one of the greatest speeches” in British House of Commons history.
In the speech, Benn broke with his party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and called for the UK to extend its airstrikes to Syria.
“We have a moral and practical duty to extend to Syria the acts we are now taking in Iraq,” Benn told the Commons, addressing his party directly.
“We are here faced by fascists,” he said of ISIS. “Not just their calculated brutality but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt.”
“And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated and it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists were just one part of the international brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco,” Benn continued.
“It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It’s why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice and my view, Mr. Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria, and that is why I ask my colleagues to vote in favour of this motion tonight,” he said.
Multiple members of parliament (MPs) said that Benn’s speech had swayed them in the final hour of a more than 10-hour debate on whether the UK should extend its airstrikes to Syria. The UK has been bombing ISIS targets in Iraq as part of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition since last year.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had urged lawmakers to back extending the air strikes to Syria.
One MP, Stella Creasy, wrote on Twitter that “Hilary Benn’s speech has persuaded me that fascism must be defeated. I will hold public meeting on Sunday to discuss.”
“Hilary Benn’s wind up speech in Syria debate one of the very best I have heard in the last 32 years really powerful heard in total silence,” Conservative MP Nicholas Soames tweeted.
Another MP, Angela Smith, described the speech as “moving” and “immensely powerful,” and said Labour MPs were moved to tears by the speech, the Daily Mirror reported.
British political analyst Andrew Sparrow noted in the Guardian how rare it is for MPs to applaud following a speech in the Commons.
“It is very, very rare for MPs to applaud in the Commons but they applauded Benn because they recognised that this was something special (just as they applauded Robin Cook when he spoke against the Iraq war in 2003),” he said.
Listen to the full speech below, or read the full text here.
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