Labour MPs have been lobbied to vote against UK airstrikes in Syria by members of staff in the party’s whips’ office before the shadow cabinet has decided whether to allow a free vote on the issue.
MPs objected to receiving emails from the staff of an MP in the Labour whips office urging them to vote against bombing in Syria, sent shortly before David Cameron held a House of Commons debate on the proposals.
The email, which was sent out by a member of staff working for Graeme Morris, the Labour MP and a whip, was allegedly drafted with the knowledge of the Labour leader’s office.
It has been suggested the email is a precursor of the pressure likely to be put on Labour MPs by some activists to reject airstrikes ahead of a meeting of the parliamentary party on Monday.
The email was being digested as the shadow cabinet completed its first round of discussions on how to respond to Cameron’s call to back airstrikes on Thursday afternoon. The argument is finely balanced, and difficult to predict.
Allegedly sent on behalf of “Labour members”, the email claims western airstrikes will play into the hands of Islamic State, adding the government has not made an effective case for military intervention. The decisions of Labour MPs will be critical to whether there is a clear Commons majority for airstrikes.
Some Labour MPs believe Jeremy Corbyn has set up a timetable for discussions designed to give local Labour parties maximum chance to express their opposition to war.
The email, sometimes deploying arguments and language that was later to appear in Corbyn’s questions to the prime minister, states: “There’s no reason to think more bombing will work. The US and other forces have been bombing Isis targets in Iraq and Syria for more than a year, but in that time although Isis has lost some territory, it has gained ground elsewhere.”
It claims: “Adding British bombs to existing US and other bombing campaigns will not make the difference in beating Isis – and we believe it is being pressed solely for reasons of political expediency.
“The logic of intervention is that without ground forces, air attacks cannot defeat or evict IIsis from the territory it currently controls in Syria. But David Cameron has no credible proposal for the use of ground forces, as his comments in prime minister’s questions this week demonstrated and the deployment of ground forces risks dragging us back into the experience of Iraq. All of this means the danger of mission-creep and therefore pressure for western boots on the ground.
“Furthermore, there is a danger that intensified bombing of Isis-controlled areas will merely strengthen and hand control to other radical Salafist and Jihadi groups.
The letter also questions whether UN security council resolutions passed so far give the “clear and unambiguous authorisation” without which Labour’s conference said any such extension of bombing should be opposed.
It also asserts: “The UN resolution offers no coordinated military or diplomatic strategy to defeat Isis or bring an end to the Syrian civil war.
“The dangers of adding more external military forces to the Syrian conflict are already growing, as the shooting down of a Russian military jet by Turkish forces has recently demonstrated.
“Action to defeat Isis that really works will have to come from within the region, but those Arab states that originally joined the bombing campaign have already effectively pulled out.
It also suggested that Britain should consider whether airstrikes will endanger British citizens, arguing “western attacks on Isis play into the terror group’s hands. They want to provoke the western powers to launch military attacks and draw them into another war. We must also be careful that we do nothing to increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks at home.”
It continues: “The alternative to more bombing is to accelerate the Vienna talks, under the auspices of the UN, for a negotiated regional settlement of the Syrian civil war – leading to a broad-based Syrian government that has the confidence of all the country’s main communities.”
Graeme Morris has not yet responded to requests for comment.