Jeremy Corbyn to discuss Syrian air strikes with shadow cabinet – BBC News

Jeremy CorbynImage copyright

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Jeremy Corbyn has yet to decide whether to give his MPs a free vote

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is to meet his shadow cabinet amid splits over whether to back air strikes in Syria.

MPs are likely to be asked whether to back strikes, which Mr Corbyn opposes.

Senior figures including shadow chancellor John McDonnell have urged him to offer MPs a free vote, but his ally Diane Abbott said MPs should be instructed to vote with the leadership.

Meanwhile, union chief Len McCluskey accused MPs of using the issue to start a coup against Mr Corbyn.

Media captionJohn McDonnell MP: “His decision is not to bomb and I think that’s the position of the majority of our party members and quite a few Conservative MPs now”

The government is attempting to persuade MPs to back extending UK air strikes aimed at so-called Islamic State into Syria.

David Cameron says he will hold a vote on air strikes only if certain he has the clear support of the Commons, saying losing the vote would hand the Islamic State group a propaganda victory.

Although Mr Cameron has a parliamentary majority, there are enough Conservative MPs opposed to the UK joining in the bombing of IS targets in Syria to put the result in doubt.

The third largest party in the Commons, the SNP, is opposed to the bombing, so the stance of Labour MPs is key to whether or not Mr Cameron would win such a vote.

Analysis: ‘A crucial week’

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By Ben Wright, BBC political correspondent

It’s all about the numbers. Even though the government has a majority of 12, a number of Conservative MPs – perhaps a dozen – have strong doubts about extending air strikes to Syria.

And the government will not risk a defeat in the House of Commons. In fact, it wants an emphatic win. The government won’t get the support of SNP MPs, the third largest party in Parliament, so it needs a chunk of Labour MPs with it.

Some Labour MPs had briefings with the MoD this weekend and are wrestling with the arguments, listening to constituents. It is why Jeremy Corbyn’s decision is so important.

If he allows a free vote, perhaps half his shadow cabinet and around 60 Labour MPs may vote for air strikes. If he insists on collective opposition there will be an almighty row within the Parliamentary Labour Party that could scupper the government’s plans.

One shadow cabinet minster has told me there’s a chance Labour will not agree a position on Monday at all and will wait for the wording of the government’s motion before deciding how to vote. It will be a crucial week.

Mr Corbyn says he has still not decided whether to allow his MPs to follow their conscience in a free vote, or insist they collectively oppose military action – but he was clear in a Sunday Marr Show interview that he would make the decision himself.

Ms Abbott, the shadow international development secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she believed public opinion was “moving towards us”.

“I think it’s clear now that Cameron’s case [for war] is unravelling. Party members and increasingly the country want to see us oppose these air strikes.”

Media captionLabour free vote on Syria ‘hands victory to Cameron’

She said Labour members wanted the party to oppose air strikes “with every sinew of our being” which meant imposing a three-line whip on the vote.

“The problem about a free vote is it hands victory to Cameron on these air strikes… on a plate,” she added.

“I don’t think that’s what party members want to see.”

Mr Corbyn insists he represents the views of Labour members, an opinion echoed by Mr McCluskey, the leader of Britain’s biggest trade union.

In a Huffington Post blog, the Unite general secretary accused Labour MPs of a “sickening” effort to get rid of Mr Corbyn by exploiting the row over Syria.

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Len McCluskey of the Unite union has accused Labour MPs of plotting against Mr Corbyn

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said the government does not yet have enough votes from MPs to back the extension of air strikes into Syria as well as Iraq.

Mr Fallon told the BBC he had been in talks with Labour MPs but added: “We’ve got to keep building the case.”

He admitted it would be harder to get support if Labour ordered its MPs to vote against air strikes.


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