As you are no doubt aware, Parliament was recalled today by the Prime Minister in order to consider UK involvement in the coalition against ISIL in Iraq.
Over the last four years, these votes have come to affect me much more than I anticipated when I first became our MP. There are few comparable situations to casting a parliamentary vote in matters of this kind, when - whichever way the vote is cast - there are ramifications affecting tens of thousands of people, and very possibly more. These are not decisions which can be taken easily or lightly.
I stand by my vote last year against military action in Syria. At the time the Government had no coherent strategy for what it wanted to do, and the timescale seemed to be determined by the existing schedule of the US military. Crucially, we did not know whose side we would be joining by taking action against the Assad regime. In retrospect, it seems to me that we would have effectively been fighting on the same side as ISIL if we had attacked Syria. I am aware however, although I disagree, that some believe ISIL is a product of not intervening in the region earlier.
In addition, since 2010 I have become more sceptical of some of our foreign engagements, particularly in Afghanistan where I think we have many lessons to learn. This is primarily because, having entered Parliament from a background as a solicitor and local councillor, I have taken some time to become more familiar with our armed forces. I have been to Afghanistan, spent time at UK bases and at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, and been to our training facilities in some remote parts of the world. I believe that too many times, we have deployed our forces without a clear mission, or on the basis of poor intelligence or bad advice from our senior military personnel.
So I entered the House of Commons today uncertain as to which way to vote. Like everyone else I am revolted by the actions of ISIL. It is an outrage that they claim allegiance to the Islamic faith, when their activities are of the most un-Islamic kind. Their politics, in so much as they have any, are a form of ultra-fascistic piracy. We have little chance of taking to them, as there is nothing we can talk to them about. They have brought terror, death and horrific atrocities to the areas they have conquered. The further expansion of their influence is untenable.
The request for the UK to join the coalition against ISIL has come directly from the Iraqi Government. The form our intervention would take would be the involvement of RAF as part of a coalition air campaign, in support of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces. The coalition already includes five Arab countries, including Jordan and the UAE.
I therefore voted for the UK to join the coalition, but not without reservation. I do not believe we can ignore ISIL and if we did I believe we only end up intervening at a later date, when they would be stronger and the danger to us would be greater. And the prospect of Kurdistan, one of the few functioning democratic societies in the region, being overrun by ISIL is unconscionable. Many times as an MP, the choice is not a binary one between a good decision and a bad one, but a considered choice between two equally difficult courses of action. This is one of those occasions.
Long term, I believe the only way to achieve a full resolution to this conflict is to understand that at its heart is the conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam, i.e. between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Only by bringing these countries into negotiations can we end the cycle of conflict, and this is what I believe must be central to the UK's policy in the region.
The House of Commons voted 524-43 in favour of the UK joining the international coalition. I expect military operations to begin immediately.