By a Newsnet reporter
The Coalition Government’s plans to join in possible US military intervention in Syria were halted in their tracks last night, after a Government motion to take military action in Syria “if necessary” was voted down by the House of Commons.
In a humiliating blow to David Cameron’s authority, Conservative and Lib Dem rebels joined with Labour, the SNP and other parties to defeat the motion by 272 votes to 285, an opposition majority of 13.
The House also rejected a Labour motion demanding “compelling evidence” before Britain could be involved in any military action, by 332 votes to 220.
The Government had already been forced to water down their proposals, by conceding to Labour demands that UK involvement would be subject to a second vote in the Commons following the conclusion of the investigation by United Nations weapons inspectors currently in progress in Damascus. However this was not enough to bring sufficient rebel Conservative and Lib Dem MPs back on board, and the Government motion failed to carry.
After the defeat of the Government motion was announced, Mr Cameron took to the dispatch box amidst jeers from Labour and SNP MPs calling for his immediate resignation. Calling for order, Speaker of the House John Bercow addressed one of the main ringleaders, the SNP’s Angus MacNeil, saying:
“Mr MacNeil, you are like an exploded volcano, erupted, calm yourself man.”
The defeat is likely to renew unease within the Conservative backbenches over Mr Cameron’s leadership, with critics claiming that the episode has revealed that the Conservative leadership has badly misjudged the public mood on Syria.
Mr Cameron was asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband for an assurance that the Coalition Government would not use so-called Royal Perogative to participate in military action without consulting Parliament and called on him to give an assurance that the UK would only launch an attack upon Syria following a Commons vote.
Mr Cameron replied:
“I can give that assurance. Let me say, the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”
UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond confirmed that the UK would not be involved in any military action in Syria. It is believed that the United States is gearing up for military intervention against the Assad regime, and may possibly take action within the next few days.
Speaking later on BBC’s Newsnight, the Defence Minister said:
“The Prime Minister is disappointed. He has not changed his view that a robust response from the international community is necessary to try to prevent the further use of chemical weapons. But he is absolutely clear that whatever the technicalities of the motions and amendments tonight, the mood of Parliament was that Britain should not be involved in military action and Britain will not be involved in military action.”
He added that the failure of the Government to persuade the House of Commons to support military action was a “legacy experience” of the Iraq war, which had “poisoned the well” of public opinion on military intervention in the Middle East. Mr Hammond claimed that the vote would be “welcomed” by the Assad regime.
Mr Hammond also admitted that the defeat would “place some strain” on the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the United States.
Opinion polls show a very low level of public support for military action in Syria. A YouGov poll for the Sun newspaper earlier this week showed that 74% were opposed to any UK involvement in the Syrian conflict.
The other likely US ally in intervention in Syria France, is also now calling for a delay in action until U.N. inspectors conclude their report. Speaking to Bloomberg News, French Cabinet Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said, “Before acting, we need proof.”
Many observers believe that the USA will now embark on unilateral action.