Paris Attacks: How will Britain react?

As we learn more about the individuals murdered in Paris, their stories, and the shattered lives left behind, Friday’s attacks become even more shocking and incomprehensible.

Events like this unite rivals in condemnation — rival leaders, rival groups, rival political parties. But such unity is likely to be short lived.

The terrorist attacks in Paris raise a series of issues for British politicians which will provide significant tests in the coming weeks.

Ministers have brought forward a planned increase in funding and staffing for counter-terrorist operations. They’ll hire almost two-thousand more extra security and intelligence staff and greatly increase funding for aviation security.

But they’ll also be tempted to speed up adoption of new surveillance powers. Under current plans, the so-called “Snooper’s Charter” will be subject to lengthy parliamentary scrutiny, which could temper the proposals.

Already, some are saying that can’t happen, that in the light of the Paris attacks, and the apparent terrorist targeting of a Russian passenger jet, the security services should be given whatever powers they seek.

Others will warn that knee-jerk reactions rarely make for good laws. The government’s small majority will mean it has to tread carefully.

It’s the concept of freedom that those who attack cities like Paris seek to constrain — there’s little freedom to oppose IS in Syria or Iraq. But the right to express views, even views many may find objectionable, is one of the fundamental freedoms meant to make western democratic societies superior to fanatically-imposed dictatorships.

France says it’s at war with the terrorists who targeted its capital — and already French jets have carried out their biggest strike to date on IS targets inside Syria.

Is it time, finally, for Britain to join that operation? We know the government wants to — the Defence Secretary has said it’s “morally indefensible” for leave the task to other countries.

But ministers also continue to say they won’t ask Parliament to approve strikes unless it’s clear there’s a “consensus” in favour of action. Have the attacks on Paris pushed us close to that moment?

Possibly. But Labour remains deeply divided, and the Conservatives don’t have the parliamentary strength to be sure of pushing it through. 

If Jeremy Corbyn retains his opposition to military strikes on extremist targets in Syria, he will not be able to hold his party together. One Labour MP, Mike Gapes, is currently in Iraq meeting Kurdish groups fighting against IS. He says it’s “perverse” the Government doesn’t push for action, calling the current situation “illogical”.

It’s clear that, if ministers do push for a vote on Syria, many Labour MPs will support them. Mr Corbyn may be forced to allow a free vote, aware that he’ll be unable to demand his MPs obey him.

The counter argument is that Britain could only make a tiny contribution to strikes on IS, that past offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan have only fermented anti-western feeling. All sides agree there will have to be a ground offensive to defeat the extremists, but few countries are willing to put their own troops on the ground.

When London was attacked ten years ago, there was a determination to carry on normal life, to refuse to give terrorists the victory of panic. When Paris was attacked in January, there was a determination to cherish and champion freedom of expression. 

Now Paris has been targeted again, and our leaders are being tested once more. Right now, however, their decisions may mean little to relatives searching hospitals for missing loved ones.