Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the U.K. has been an instrumental part of the U.S.-led coalition active in Syria and has also been a major source of funding for armed Syrian opposition groups, having spent millions of pounds on financing such groups — often with terrorist affiliations — since 2012.
The Global Network for Syria, which includes a bipartisan group of several British policymakers and former British ambassadors to Syria, has slammed the U.K. government’s current foreign policy on Syria, Saying that current efforts of “prolong suffering” in the country by funding “so-called moderate armed opposition forces” that are “dominated by Jihadist militants.”
The group, combining U.K. politicians from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and independents — as well as former Ambassadors to Syria Peter Ford and Lord Green of Deddington — wrote a letter to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May that, according to U.K. newspaper The Independent, asserted that the country’s current Syria policy “will ensure that stabilisation and reunification under a unitary authority remain a distant possibility, prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people and weakening the stability of the Middle East as a whole.”
The letter also called for the U.K. government to lift sanctions against government-held portions of Syria, support diplomatic instead of military solutions, and allow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power. And it spoke against the de facto foreign occupation of Syrian territory in Syria’s northeast, a region that accounts for more than 30 percent of Syria’s total territory as well as most of its oil, gas, fresh water and agricultural resources. British forces are among the other foreign powers, which also include the United States and France, that are currently occupying that territory.
Ford, who served as the U.K.’s ambassador to Damascus from 2003 to 2006 under the Blair government, told The Independent that the letter seeks to draw attention to the impacts of current U.K. policies that have not worked and that instead create “the risk of a new conflict.” He noted that sanctions against Syria have been particularly ineffective, as they are only “damaging the Syrian people while doing nothing to hurt the Syrian government.”
Growing opposition in high places
Other well-known British political figures who signed the letter included Baroness Cox and Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, both of whom were heavily criticized for their visit to Syria in 2017 during which they met with a number of religious groups and Syrian state officials. Another signatory, Lord Hylton, has also made trips to Syria, in both 2016 and 2017, and has asserted that Assad has “the support or the acquiescence of most Syrians.”
Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the U.K. has been an instrumental part of the U.S.-led coalition active in Syria and has also been a major source of funding for armed Syrian opposition groups, having spent millions of pounds on financing such groups since 2012. Many of those groups, particularly those who control the Idlib province of Syria, are either branches or allies of terrorist groups such as al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syria arm.
Furthermore, the U.K. has been the top financier of the controversial “humanitarian” group known as the White Helmets, whose videos and photos have been used as the basis for grave and often untrue allegations of war crimes against the Syrian government. The U.K. connection to the White Helmets likely goes much deeper than mere financing, as the group itself was founded by a former U.K. military intelligence officer-turned-mercenary, James Le Mesurier.
Though the group’s letter is unlikely to greatly influence the Syria policy of the May-led government, it certainly does show that there is growing dissent among influential current and former U.K. politicians and political figures regarding the U.K.’s long-standing role in foreign-led efforts to overthrow the Syrian government and balkanize the Syrian state.