Syria crisis: Cameron loses Commons vote on Syria action


David Cameron: "It is clear to me that the British parliament... does not want to see British military action"

MPs have rejected possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to deter the use of chemical weapons.

David Cameron said he would respect the defeat of a government motion by 285-272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.

The US said it would "continue to consult" with the UK, "one of our closest allies and friends".

France said the UK's vote does not change its resolve on the need to act in Syria.

Russia - which has close ties with the Assad government - welcomed Britain's rejection of a military strike.

The prime minister's call for a military response in Syria followed a suspected chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on 21 August, in which hundreds of people are reported to have died.

The US and UK say the Assad government was behind the attack - a claim denied by Damascus, which blames the rebels.

Assad said Syria would defend itself against any aggression.

'Harm relationship'

The UK government's motion was in support of military action in Syria if it was backed up by evidence from United Nations weapons inspectors, who are investigating the attack.

They are due to finish their work on Friday and give their preliminary findings to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the weekend.

After the vote Prime Minster David Cameron said it was clear Parliament did not want action and "the government will act accordingly".

Chancellor George Osborne told Radio 4's Today programme there would now be "national soul searching about our role in the world".

He added: "I hope this doesn't become a moment when we turn our back on all of the world's problems."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had told BBC's Newsnight programme that he and the prime minister were "disappointed" with the result, saying it would harm Britain's "special relationship" with Washington.

But he said he did not expect Britain's decision to "stop any action" by other countries.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Friday that the House of Commons had spoken "for the people of Britain".

"People are deeply concerned about the chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but they want us to learn the lessons of Iraq," he said.

"They don't want a rush to war. They want things done in the right way, working with the international community."

He said Britain "doesn't need reckless and impulsive leadership, it needs calm and measured leadership".

Ian Pannell: The victims "arrived like the walking dead"

Mr Miliband said Britain's relationship with the US "remains strong" despite the vote. He said there is a lesson that Britain must do what is in its national interest, even if that means doing something different to America.

He also said that Mr Cameron must "find other ways" to put pressure on Mr Assad.

The result of the vote was condemned by former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown, who tweeted that in "50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed [or] ashamed".

He later told the BBC that by doing nothing President Assad will use chemical weapons more "those weapons will become more commonplace in the Middle East battlefield" and "we will feel the effects of that as well".

PM 'diminished'

Thirty Conservative and nine Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the government's motion.

The defeat comes as a potential blow to the authority of Mr Cameron, who had already watered down a government motion proposing military action, in response to Labour's demands for more evidence of President Assad's guilt.

Britain will not be involved in any military action that takes place in Syria, the chancellor has confirmed

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said the prime minister had now lost control of his own foreign and defence policy, and as a result he will cut a diminished figure on the international stage.

He added that some strong advocates of the transatlantic relationship were worried that America may now question the value and reliability of Britain as an ally.

During the debate, Labour had seen its own amendment - calling for "compelling" evidence that the regime was responsible for chemical attacks - rejected by MPs by 114 votes.

But, unexpectedly, MPs also rejected the government's motion.

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the government defeat was down to the "fatally flawed" case put to MPs by Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, claiming the pair's credibility was now diminished.

'The system works'

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said so many of Mr Cameron's own MPs had voted with Labour because they were now "unwilling to take him at his word".

Conservative rebel Crispin Blunt said he hoped the vote would "relieve ourselves of some of this imperial pretension that a country of our size can seek to be involved in every conceivable conflict that's going on around the world".

In other developments:

  • The BBC witnessed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school playground which left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies
  • The US said it would act in its "best interests" in dealing with the Syria crisis, following the British rejection of military intervention
  • The Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Lebanon because of a "heightened risk of anti-Western sentiment" linked to the possibility of military action in Syria. The BBC understands that the families of British diplomats are being evacuated

In a statement, the White House said President Obama believed "that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable".

Men search for survivors amid rubbles of collapsed building after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria"s President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo"s Fardous neighborhood August 26, 2013 The war inside Syria has continued to inflict huge damage

Obama administration officials on Thursday told a group of US lawmakers in a conference call that it was "beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime," said Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US would "continue to work with Britain and consult with Britain as we are with all our allies".

On Friday French President Francois Hollande told the newspaper Le Monde that he would still be willing to take action without Britain's involvement.

He said he supported taking "firm" punitive action over an attack he said had caused "irreparable" harm to the Syrian people.

Germany, however, has ruled out taking part. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper that "such participation has not been sought nor is it being considered by us".

Meanwhile, Mr Assad told a group of Yemeni MPs on Thursday that Syria would defend itself against any aggression, according to Syria's Sana news agency.

"Syria, with its steadfast people and brave army, will continue eliminating terrorism, which is utilised by Israel and Western countries to serve their interests in fragmenting the region," he said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    Well Done Britain! So proud of this country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 907.

    I wouldn't be surprised if it was the rebels who gasses those people, in attempt to engage the west.

    These are the same people who think 911 was an "inside job" so they could justify the afghan and Iraq wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 906.

    To our American cousins ranting about Britain letting them down.

    Let's be very clear. Just about the only countries that have ever supported Britain or shown any loyalty what-so-ever are Canada and France. So your 'threats' not to support Britain in future are worthless - just like the 'support' you have offered over the Falklands.

    As for WWII - you joined late and got our Empire in return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    Re: Post 882

    Or Cameron could have turned around in the first place and said he didn't want to take action. But he didn't do that because we all know he's desperate to start bombing as it will draw public and media attention away from his disasterous polcies which are dragging the UK back to the Stone Age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    I hope the BBC takes on board that their attempts to get the country psyched up for military intervention in Syria has now clearly been to no avail.

    The coverage of this affair has been appalling with barely a mention of Saudi lobbying for Western intervention against Assad, which has been going on for over a year.

    The fact that we have to stump up a licence fee for this adds insult to injury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    For once our elected members listen to the views of the electorate, it's our money and our forces blood that would have paid for any military intervention.
    Assad has been killing Syrians for a long time in a CIVIL war, Chemical weapons kill people, yes it is appalling to see this carnage, but it is the same as killing people with mines bullets and explosives, they're all still dead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    Just now
    Now we see the real legacy left by Tony Blair...


    If you really want to see it, it's online. John Pilger "Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq" Excuse me if you already have seen it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    Wow. 7am... crawling out of bed to go to work and I actually feel elated despite being slightly unnerved by the still high proportion of jingoists in the commons. Regardless, it shows the feelings in life are for free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    If he was a good and honest leader, he would not have had to take this to the house, he could have simply made his own decision with a very firm "No, sorry, we're not getting involved in this American demand" Instead, we was told what to do, hence, he's not done anything, again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    Syria is not our war

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    This shouldn't be considered as Cameron losing the Commons vote but the Commons reflecting what most people think. There is no doubt about the horror of conflict in Syria but remember where Blair's comments about WMD's in Iraq got us despite the UN inspectors reports.

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    The right vote at the right time having said that if the UN do come back and report Assad did use chemical weapons and that he is engaging in genocide then something will have to be done and pronto by the UN and that includes the Russians. All our effort should be directed at making that happen if its needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    "If it was not for the US military, you British would be speaking German."

    Ah yes, the default setting for someone (usually an American) who has nothing of any intelligence, wit, or relevance to offer to the debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    Thank the Lord, the Prime Minister has it right on a lot of things but getting involved in another war would have been a disaster. I am reminded of the film Apocalypse Now re Colonel Kurtz at the start of the film who is ordered to be terminated because of his violent tactics, ''accusing Kurtz of murder in this place is a bit like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500''

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    Simply following the US has been a disastrous policy for many years. Whilst regimes like those in North Korea and Zimbabwe - to name but two - carry on for many, many years, unchallenged, we seek to police the world just as we did 150 years ago. As others have said, we seem to be able to find millions to finance overseas incursions but little to improve the lot of the poor in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    Some of the comments I have read on here are disgraceful. How dare you refer to the British public as cowards, I am sure you wouldn't be saying things like this if it was YOU that had to fight on the front lines!

    We have lost far too many brave men and women fighting wars we shouldn't have been involved with. Good decision from parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    A victory for labour and boy they needed one. I can just see this weak leader as PM shaking hands with Putin in our new special relationship! send chills down my spine. we've voted now to not help on a international scale so lets strip the millitary right down and save some cash, afterall we don't need one that big anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    The UK should stop acting like it owns half the world. Maybe it used to but it doesn't now. And looking for reflected glory as an 'American groupie' demeans our nation. Spending taxpayers money on ill conceived military actions is reckless to say the least.The UK should focus on improving its own society there's certainly enough to do on that front.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    We have absolutely no real problems in the UK, I am earning 10% less than I was 5 years ago and am still, along with the rest of Britain, a member of one of the worlds richest countries. We might be concerned about a small percentage of child poverty in this country but the utter carnage of children in Syria makes our own complaints laughable.
    This is a selfish cowardly result lacking compassion

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    I actually believe this is a 1930 wake up call to rearm, to look at defending ourselves, the world is becoming a more dangerous and hostile place with weapon proliferation the UK (at the UN) cannot influence.

    The UK must stop being a global policemen, defend itself, object to atrocities, wait for Russia to see its negative roll and let these countries fight / sort it out themselves.


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