Labour's Lisa Nandy reveals regrets at vote on military intervention in Syria

Lisa Nandy warns of 'consequences of inaction' as she eyes potential change to more robust foreign policy

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has suggested Labour would be more interventionist if it gained power. Reuters
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The shadow British foreign secretary has admitted to her regret over voting against military action in Syria, referring to the “consequences of inaction” in a war in which thousands of civilians have been killed.

Lisa Nandy said she “thinks about it a lot” in reference to the vote in 2013 that saw Britain pull back from taking decisive action against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime that murdered people in Damascus with chemical weapons.

The vote, which also let to former US president Barack Obama’s government deciding against striking Syria, stabilised President Assad’s grip and most likely led to thousands of civilian deaths.

Ms Nandy was asked about Syria during the Labour Party conference in Brighton on Monday and responded by discussing the vote, which former Prime Minister David Cameron lost by 285 to 272 after the opposition Labour party went against it.

“I think about it often,” said Ms Nandy, 42. “I think there are consequences of actions but sometimes there are consequences of inaction, too. So I really struggle with how the world seems to have just turned away [from Syria].”

She said that if the vote for military strikes had been won, the impact was still open to question. “I don't know if things would have been different” in the conflict which has lasted longer than First and Second World Wars combined. The “devastation it is wreaking is appalling”, she told the fringe meeting, adding that Syria would be a “priority” for the next Labour government.

Labour has been dogged for years by the decision of former prime minister Tony Blair to join American forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The lack of appetite for foreign intervention had a considerable influence on the 2013 vote. But Ms Nandy appeared to favour a more robust and interventionist Labour foreign policy, later stating it was justified to send troops into conflict.

“Sometimes you have to send in the troops to protect people, not just to safeguard populations but also to take on people who are murdering people,” she told the meeting. “Military action is never always a good call”, she said, but sometimes it was necessary “not to be bystanders”.

During her earlier speech to the conference, the shadow foreign secretary said a Labour government would work with the European Union to develop a “new action plan for conflict prevention and peacebuilding” to deal with wars in Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia.

Furthermore, it would set up a new “task force on illicit finance” to make Britain “the most inhospitable place in the world for dirty money and ill-gotten gains”.

A new arms export regime would also be “transparent and committed to upholding international law”.

Updated: September 27, 2021, 4:34 PM