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Syria airstrikes: Jeremy Corbyn wants to whip Labour MPs into opposing PM plan

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn appears to be in a minority within the shadow cabinet in opposing airstrikes. Credit: PA Wire

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to whip Labour MPs into voting against the Government's proposed airstrikes in Syria despite strong opposition from within his shadow cabinet, a Labour source has told ITV News.

Corbyn sparked anger within the Labour front bench team after writing to Labour MPs to say he cannot back David Cameron's plan for Britain to take part in action on Islamic State targets in Syria.

A Labour source told ITV News Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship the letter provoked a "lot of fury among the shadow cabinet" after the divided group had "parked" the issue until Monday having failed to find a unified stance at a meeting.

Scroll down to read Jeremy Corbyn's letter in full

Many of Mr Corbyn's shadow cabinet want a whipped vote in favour of the action outlined by David Cameron, a Labour source told ITV News.

Mr Corbyn is understood to be in a minority within the shadow cabinet in even opposing the airstrikes.

The Labour front bench team met after Mr Cameron made the case for extending Britain's military role against IS in the House of Commons.

Jeremy Corbyn's shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn has indicated his support for proposed airstrikes following a meeting of the shadow cabinet. Credit: PA Wire

Mr Corbyn's letter to his party colleagues said Mr Cameron did not make a "convincing case" that airstrikes would strengthen not undermine Britain's national security.

"Nor did it satisfactorily answer the questions raised by us and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee," he added.

Mr Corbyn said Mr Cameron "did not set out a coherent strategy, coordinated through the United Nations, for the defeat of (IS)."

"Nor has he been able to explain what credible and acceptable ground forces could retake and hold territory freed from (IS) control by an intensified air campaign," the letter added.

"In my view," Mr Corbyn continued, "the Prime Minister has been unable to explain the contribution of additional UK bombing to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war, or its likely impact on the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK."

The Labour leader concluded: "I do not believe the Prime Minister’s current proposal for airstrikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it."

A shadow cabinet minister earlier told ITV News a "clear majority" of the shadow cabinet was in favour of backing David Cameron's proposed action.

Mr Corbyn confirmed in the letter he and his Labour colleagues would attempt to reach a consensus in continued talks on Monday.

"The Shadow Cabinet met today for an initial discussion and debated the issues extensively," he said. "We will meet again on Monday, when we will attempt to reach a common view."

In tweeting details of Mr Corbyn's letter ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen confirmed a decision was still to be reached on whether to whip Labour MPs into voting for or against the Government position.

The shadow cabinet met for 90 minutes to discuss Britain's action over Syria and a source told ITV News "there was no arguing".

But disagreement at the top of the party became apparent shortly afterwards.

Mr Corbyn's shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn spoke publicly of his support for extending RAF airstrikes in Iraq into Syria.

Mr Benn said there were "compelling arguments" for airstrikes and "a very strong case for us playing our full part" in the fight against Islamic State.

His shadow cabinet colleague Diane Abbott said she was "not sure (airstrikes) would make British people safer at all".

Former prime minister Tony Blair meanwhile said "many Labour MPs" backed Mr Cameron's plan for airstrikes.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he believed the Government was building a consensus for military action.

Jeremy Corbyn's letter in full:

Dear Colleague,

The Prime Minister made a Statement to the House today making the case for a UK bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria. A copy of my response has already been circulated.

We have all been horrified by the despicable attacks in Paris and are determined to see the defeat of ISIS.

Our first priority must be the security of Britain and the safety of the British people. The issue now is whether what the Prime Minister is proposing strengthens, or undermines, our national security.

I do not believe that the Prime Minister today made a convincing case that extending UK bombing to Syria would meet that crucial test. Nor did it satisfactorily answer the questions raised by us and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

In particular, the Prime Minister did not set out a coherent strategy, coordinated through the United Nations, for the defeat of ISIS. Nor has he been able to explain what credible and acceptable ground forces could retake and hold territory freed from ISIS control by an intensified air campaign.

In my view, the Prime Minister has been unable to explain the contribution of additional UK bombing to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war, or its likely impact on the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK.

For these and other reasons, I do not believe the Prime Minister’s current proposal for air strikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it.

The Shadow Cabinet met today for an initial discussion and debated the issues extensively. We will meet again on Monday, when we will attempt to reach a common view.

I will get in touch again when we know the timing of the debate and vote.

Yours Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party.

– Jeremy Corbyn's letter

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