MPs divided on lifting arms embargo against Syria


The prospect of lifting the EU arms embargo against Syria has produced a split in the Commons.

The Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Richard Ottoway, said the government should be wary of further intervention even if it seemed chemical weapons were being deployed by the Assad regime.

"For those of us who were here in 2003, that rings alarm bells when we went to war [in Iraq] on the strength of intelligence assessment that none of us have seen," said Mr Ottoway.

He was responding to a motion introduced by Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt on 21 May 2013.

Mr Burt explained the European Scrutiny Committee had requested a debate on the floor of the House on the UK government's approval of an amendment of the EU Council's arms embargo against Syria.

The amendment, made in February, has made it possible to provide non-lethal equipment to opposition forces.

It also provided a further opportunity for MPs to respond to the foreign secretary's statement on 20 May that "no option is off the table" in the effort to reach a political settlement in Syria.

Mike Gapes, a Labour member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, addressed the minister: "You are in the position of having to justify what is a very bad policy. It's a bad policy because the fact of our government going in to a position of providing sophisticated weaponry at some point in the future."

But Conservative backbencher Robert Halfon asked: "Do you not agree that Nato and the free world needs to do much more to intervene to stop a chemical holocaust from happening?"

Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood lamented the delay between the amendment being agreed and its consideration in Parliament, but said he supported the government's position. "We are in the end only talking about potentially lifting an arms embargo," he noted.

With the prospect of military involvement in Syria worrying many MPs, the Foreign Office minister pointed out: "There are already these issues going on at present, there are already risks. There is nothing we are seeking to do that will add to the risk."

He added: "The most important thing is to continue the work on the political transition. Risks in relation to chemical weapons are already there, no matter what happens with regards to the lifting of the arms embargo."

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