MPs call for parliamentary consent before arming Syria

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MPs have voted decisively in favour of a backbench-business motion calling for the "explicit" consent of Parliament, in the shape of a Commons debate and vote, before arming the Syrian rebels, on 11 July 2013.

The motion, tabled by Conservative peer John Baron, read "this House believes no lethal support should be provided to anti-government forces in Syria without the explicit prior consent of Parliament". It was passed by 114 votes to one.

Protests in Syria, inspired by the Arab Spring which saw changes of government in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, were brutally suppressed by security forces in 2011.

The stand-off has since escalated into a civil war which has claimed tens of thousands of lives so far, according to UN estimates.

On 18 June 2013, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the government would not take such action "against the will" of MPs.

But on 19 June 2013, David Cameron told MPs that the government would reserve the right to arm rebels in Syria without holding a vote in the House of Commons. He said it was essential to keep the "ability to take action very swiftly".

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt assured MPs that any decision to supply weapons would be put to the Commons on a substantive motion.

He said: "If the government was to do something and then seek retrospective support in a situation where the House felt that we should have come before the House in advance... trust would be broken."

Arms debate

Many MPs, from both sides of the Commons, spoke out against arming the rebel forces.

Former Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said the civil war was "not some simplistic battle between evil and good" and argued that "the only way forward is to broker a settlement with Russia using its leverage to ensure Assad negotiates seriously".

Conservative MP John Baron spoke against arming the rebels, saying: "There can be no military solution in the longer term to this problem - there has to be a diplomatic solution.

"And yet why, as is presently the case, is the West trying to exclude Iran, a key player in the region and within the country, from the forthcoming peace talks that are being put together by the Russians?"

And former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said arming the rebels was a change of policy.

"It would have unknown political, military and perhaps even constitutional significance," he said.

But some MPs spoke in favour of intervention.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary and Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said he had come to the view that "intervention of the kind we are discussing would not only be ethically justified but also politically desirable".

He continued: "The fact I've come to that view is not that important. What I think is particularly significant is President Obama, who has been hugely reluctant in any way to be involved militarily in Syria, has nevertheless been persuaded with all the advice available to him, with all the analysis that has been, that the time has come to change that position and give military support."

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