Downing Street made clear that RAF bombing missions against IS, also known as Isil, Isis and Daesh, in Syria are likely to start within days if MPs back military action in a crunch vote tonight.
Jeremy Corbyn’s decision on Monday to allow his MPs a free vote looks certain to deliver Cameron the clear majority for air strikes that he is seeking, with 50 or more Labour MPs expected to join Tories and Ulster unionists in backing action.
But Corbyn insisted that “more and more” Labour MPs were becoming sceptical about the proposals, warning: “We are not going to bomb our way to democracy.”
Cabinet unanimously gave its formal approval to a motion which not only authorises air strikes in Syria, but also sets out plans to pursue a political solution to the Middle Eastern country’s four-year civil war, commits Britain to humanitarian support and assistance with post-conflict reconstruction and rules out the deployment of UK ground combat troops.
Speaking after the meeting in Number 10, Cameron said: “That motion talks about, yes, the necessity of taking military action against Isil in Syria as well as Iraq, but it is part of a broader strategy.
Here are some numbers behind David Cameron's case for Syria airstrikes, focused on Britain pic.twitter.com/9MJv1g7YVR— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 1, 2015
“It’s about politics and diplomacy and humanitarian aid, all of which we need to bring to bear to bring peace to Syria but to make sure we protect our national interest of fighting against this appalling terrorist organisation.”
The PM added: “I will be making the arguments and I hope as many Members of Parliament, across all parties, will support me as possible.”
Cameron’s spokeswoman said that the mood at the weekly Cabinet meeting was “very serious”, with the PM stressing “the complexities of the challenges we face, and the fact that this will require patience and persistence”.
Ministers were briefed by Attorney General Jeremy Wright on the legal basis for action, which rests on the UN Charter right for the UK to defend itself and its allies.
Cameron said the prospect of putting members of the armed forces in harm’s way “obviously preys very heavily on my mind”, but said he was following a “very deliberate and proper process” in securing political support.
The vote is expected around 10pm tonight, but Labour continued to press for debate to be extended to two days, and Commons Speaker John Bercow said he was willing to “sit up all night” if MPs wanted.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said there was a “compelling case” for military action, but warned Cameron in a letter that he was risking consensus by failing to provide sufficient “clarity” on his claim that 70,000 moderate rebels could provide ground forces to back up air strikes.