Labour MPs will get ‘free vote’ on bombing ISIS in Syria – McDonnell

A British tornado jet  © Stringer
Extending UK airstrikes against Islamic State from Iraq into Syria is a ‘morally challenging decision’ on which new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell hopes there will be a ‘free vote’ for Labour MPs.

In a discussion with Guardian editor Katherine Viner on Tuesday, McDonnell said Syria is one of a number of “big ticket” issues on which there would be principled disagreements.

The move could, which has not yet been confirmed, free a number of MPs to vote with Prime Minister David Cameron on the issue. McDonnell, like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has said he opposes bombing. Both men voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

We haven’t come to this conclusion yet about Syria,” McDonnell said, adding he had seen the country go to war five times since he entered parliament.

It just focuses your mind. You get a chill down your spine when you are making a decision to send people into war where there could be a possible loss of life … When you are sending people with a potential loss of life I think it is a conscience decision, I think it is a moral decision.

McDonnell conceded there are a range of opinions over bombing Syria within the party, and that at some point MPs would have to agree to disagree.

A 2013 vote on bombing Syria was headed off by Labour MPs, then under Ed Miliband’s leadership. At the time, the target was the Assad regime. Now the proposed target is Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), which the UK military has been bombing openly in Iraq and covertly in Syria using aircrews embedded with foreign forces.

UK Special Forces are also reportedly operating within Syria’s border.

Last month, a UK Reaper drone killed two British jihadist fighters in what many critics are calling a British adoption of the long-standing US practice of extrajudicial killing of its own citizens using drone weaponry.