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UK Votes to Bomb Islamic State in Syria as Protesters Stage 'Die-In' Outside Parliament

The motion in favor of bombing Syria passed in the House of Commons with a lopsided majority, as people outside protested loudly against British airstrikes.

by Sally Hayden
Dec 2 2015, 11:08pm

Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

The United Kingdom has voted to begin air strikes on the Islamic State in Syria, with the motion for bombing winning in the British Parliament with a large majority, 397 to 223.

As a daylong debate on whether to bomb Syria raged in parliament, a crowd of protesters outside brought traffic to a standstill, doing their best to ensure their voices could be heard inside the chamber.

The heated argument about whether the UK should begin air strikes on Islamic State territory in Syria — reinvigorated since the Paris attacks on November 13 — saw Prime Minister David Cameron label opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn a "terrorist sympathizer," and pacifist demonstrators label Cameron a "soon-to-be war criminal." 

Throughout a 10-hour parliamentary debate, the rhetoric was passionate, with Corbyn pointing out wryly, "Sometimes in this house we get carried away with the theatricals of this place."

Both sides argued theirs was the answer to improving the situation in Syria and creating less of a terrorist threat in Britain.

Corbyn said Cameron's approach was to "bomb first, talk later," and asked the chamber: "Is [Cameron] able to explain how British bombing in Syria will contribute to a negotiated political settlement to the civil war?"

"In my view only a negotiated political and diplomatic endeavor to bring about an end to the civil war in Syria will bring some hope to the millions who have lost their homes, who are refugees, who are camped out across Europe," he said. "I do not believe that the motion proposed by the prime minister achieves that." He added: "Do we send in bombers, not totally aware of what the consequences will be?"

Meanwhile, Cameron said that the UK has a "moral obligation" to target IS, who are ""plotting to kill us and to radicalize our children."

"Since November last year, our security services have foiled no fewer than seven different plots against our people," he said. "So this threat is very real. The question is this: do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people? Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?"

Related: The UK Prime Minister Thinks It's Britain's Moral Duty to Start Bombing Syria

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had said Royal Air Force jets are ready to launch "very quickly" once the vote was passed.

Several senior Labour figures also opposed Corbyn, including shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who told assembled politicians ""The time has come for us to fight this evil."

Corbyn was forced to allow a free vote for the Labour Party after failing to convince his shadow cabinet to oppose the motion. Within the  Conservative Party, Cameron was also facing a split, with some parliamentarians opposed to bombing Syria.

Public opinion in Britain has also been divided, though it appeared to shift towards opposing air strikes during the past week. A YouGov survey conducted for the Times  found that support had dropped from 59 percent to 48 percent since Cameron initially made the case for the vote. This is the equivalent of 5 million British people turning against bombing Syria.

As the debate raged on Wednesday, a crowd of protesters gathered outside in central London's Parliament Square to stage a "die-in." Many of the attendees had been in the same place the night before, when thousands assembled to express their dissent before marching to the Conservative and Labour Party headquarters. 

"I think that the ordinary people of Syria have had enough, they're being bombed by everybody — left, right and center — and I don't think any more bombs are going to help. I don't think we should go to war easily," said Geraldine Cowlan, a retired teacher living in London but originally from Dublin. "Cameron doesn't give a damn about the Syrian people."

"I have just come from parliament and we are fighting for every vote to stop this bombing," Labour MP Diane Abbott told the crowd before the result of the vote, with its lopsided 174-vote was announced. 

Related: 'Terrorist Sympathizers': Britain Split Down the Middle as Politicians Prepare to Vote on Bombing Syria

Jasmine Power, a singer from Wales, sng an anti-war song from the rally's stage. "95 percent of the people being bombed will be civilians and the terrorists will escape as they always do," she said. "I think we'll be looking back on it in the same way we look back on the Iraq war: as one big massive mistake."

Anti-war protesters stage a "die-in," bringing traffic outside the Houses of Parliament to a standstill. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Labour member of parliament Kate Hoey halted by protesters as she arrived to vote. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Hadi Nasrallah, 20, from Damascus, protesting at Parliament Square. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Anti-war protesters staging "die-in." (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Protesters outside the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd