British lawmakers voted late Wednesday to join the international campaign of airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.
The 397-223 vote in the House of Commons means Royal Air Force fighter jets — already operating against IS in neighboring Iraq — could be flying over Syria within days or even hours.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that after the deadly November 13 Paris attacks, claimed by IS, Britain should strike the terrorists in their heartland and not “sit back and wait for them to attack us.”
Anti-war protesters outside Parliament booed as they learned the result of the vote. Opponents argued that Britain’s entry into Syria’s crowded airspace would make little difference, and said Cameron’s military plan was based on wishful thinking that overlooked the messy reality of the Syrian civil war.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn opposed what he called a “reckless and half-baked intervention,” but dozens of his lawmakers voted with the government to back airstrikes.
Cameron kicked off over 10 hours of debate by urging MPs to “answer the call” from allies like France and the US, adding that bombing the “medieval monsters” of IS was “the right thing to do.”
“The question is this: do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat… or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?” he told the House of Commons.
A new opinion poll Wednesday suggested that public support for joining air strikes in Syria had dropped significantly in recent days.
A YouGov poll in The Times newspaper found that 48 percent of Britons supported Syria strikes compared to 59 percent last week.
Corbyn, who opposes military action, condemned Cameron’s “ill thought-out rush to war” and said his proposals “simply do not stack up.”
“The specter of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya looms over this debate,” Corbyn added, referring to unpopular British interventions in foreign conflicts over the last 15 years.
Cameron urged MPs not to let the memory of Iraq – which many Britons believe a Labour government under Tony Blair led them into using “sexed up” evidence on weapons of mass destruction — to dictate their decision.
“This is not 2003. We must not use past mistakes as an excuse for indifference or inaction,” he added.
The prime minister faced repeated calls during a raucous debate to apologize after reportedly telling Conservative MPs not to vote with “a bunch of terrorist sympathizers” against the strikes.
US urges more support
Cameron has wanted to extend Britain’s role in the fight against IS for months but made a fresh push which led to the vote after last month’s Paris attacks which killed 130 people.
Britain already has eight Tornado fighter jets plus drones involved in the US-led coalition striking IS targets in Iraq. However, it currently only conducts surveillance and intelligence missions over Syria.
The government will deploy more jets if the bombing is approved and argues that the Royal Air Force’s Brimstone missiles will be particularly valuable for precision strikes to avoid civilian casualties.
US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Cameron for bringing the vote to parliament Wednesday and urged all NATO countries to “step up support” for the fight against IS.
Military experts question how much difference Britain would make to the campaign, saying it may be more about wanting to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with allies like France and the United States.
Cameron again stressed that British ground forces will not be deployed to Syria as part of the action Wednesday, saying that would be a “mistake.”
Labour is deeply divided on air strikes.
Corbyn opposes the move but has let his party have a free vote on the issue because dozens of his MPs, including his foreign and defense spokespeople, want to support it.
As well as Labour and the next biggest Commons grouping, the Scottish National Party, a handful of lawmakers from Cameron’s own Conservative party also oppose joining air strikes.