Syria crisis: Robust response needed, David Cameron says

 

Prime Minister David Cameron: "We must listen to Parliament"

A "robust response" to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria is needed despite UK military involvement being ruled out, the prime minister has said.

David Cameron was defeated in the Commons as MPs rejected a motion on the principle that military action could be required to protect Syrian civilians.

Despite the result of the vote, the US said it would continue to seek a coalition for military intervention.

And France said the vote did not change its resolve about the need to act.

At the scene

The weapons inspectors this morning seemed to be in two or three minds about what was going on.

Twice they left the garage of the hotel where they and foreign correspondents are staying, looking as if they were ready to head out, and twice they went back in.

Perhaps they had a plan to visit some of the suburbs held by rebels that they had been going into to take samples, but there has been a lot of shelling going on in that direction today.

Now they are here at the regime's military hospital. There have been claims from the regime itself that they had soldiers wounded by chemical weapons, and perhaps those are the people they have come to see.

Russia - which has close ties with the the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - welcomed the UK's rejection of a military strike, while Germany has ruled out participation in any action.

Washington said it remained committed to a possible strike and would seek to build a coalition of those in favour of possible military action.

President Obama convened the US National Security Council earlier, according to the AFP news agency.

The White House believes President Assad's regime was responsible for the chemical attack on 21 August which it says killed 1,429 people in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus - a figure far higher than previously reported.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Syrian forces carefully prepared for the attack days in advance.

UN weapons inspectors have finished their investigation in Syria and are expected to deliver their preliminary findings to secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.

Mr Cameron said it was a "regret" that he had been unable to build a consensus on the response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.

However he insisted the UK remained "deeply engaged" on the world stage.

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

The UK government's defeated motion had called for military action if it was backed up by evidence from the weapons inspectors.

In Syria, the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said he had spoken to people inside President Assad's administration who were "cock-a-hoop" at the UK vote. "They believe it counts as a victory for them," he added.

"We will defend ourselves," Dr Bassam Abu Abdullah from the Syrian Information Ministry said, warning of danger "not only on the Syrian people but... the whole region" if the US decided to attack.

'Appalling crime'

In an interview at Downing Street, Mr Cameron said it was important to listen to Parliament's decision.

Start Quote

Many British former senior officers are relieved that Parliament has - certainly for now - prevented deeper UK involvement in Syria ”

End Quote

And despite MPs voting against military action, he said: "I think it's important we have a robust response to the use of chemical weapons and there are a series of things we will continue to do."

Mr Cameron added: "We will continue to take a case to the United Nations, we will continue to work in all the organisations we are members of - whether the EU, or Nato, or the G8 or the G20 - to condemn what's happened in Syria.

"It's important we uphold the international taboo on the use of chemical weapons."

There had been suggestions from ministers, including Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond, that Britain's rejection of military action would harm its relationship with the US.

Mr Hammond warned against the vote allowing Britain to "turn into a country that prefers to turn its back".

"We must stay engaged with the world," he told the BBC.

Mr Cameron, though, said he would not have to apologise to President Barack Obama.

"I was faced with three things I wanted to do right and do in the right way," he said.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports from Damascus where he says the the vote by UK MPs is seen as a victory

"First of all, to condemn absolutely and respond properly to an appalling war crime that took place in Syria. Secondly, to work with our strongest and most important ally who had made a request for British help. Thirdly, to act as a democrat, to act in a different way to previous prime ministers and properly consult Parliament.

"I wanted to do all those three things. Obviously politics is difficult - that involved going to Parliament, making an argument in a strong and principled way but then listening to Parliament.

"I think the American people and President Obama will understand that."

In other developments:

  • The BBC witnessed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school playground in northern Syria which left scores of children with napalm-like burns
  • The US said it would act in its "best interests" in dealing with the Syria crisis, following UK rejection of military intervention
  • French President Francois Hollande said all options were being considered, and has not ruled out a strike within days
  • UN weapons inspectors visited a hospital in a government-controlled area of Damascus
  • 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
  • Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans - architect of the so-called "responsibility to protect" doctrine - accused the UK of "making things up as it goes along". He blamed the government's "mishandling of the politics" for what he said was a "disappointing" vote against intervention
  • The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said there was "no doubt" President Assad's forces carried out the chemical attack
Graphic showing break down of how the UK parties' MPs voted

Labour leader Ed Miliband told the BBC: "I think ill thought-through military action would have made life worse, not better, for the Syrian people."

He accused the government of not learning the lessons of Iraq, adding MPs had "sent a message" that British forces would not be deployed "without going through the United Nations and without ensuring we have regard to the consequences in the region".

Syrians search under rubble to rescue people from houses that were destroyed by a Syrian government warplane, in Idlib province, northern Syria, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 The two-year long civil war continues to inflict huge damage on the country

Earlier he said Mr Cameron was guilty of "reckless and impulsive leadership".

And the prime minister faced criticism from his own side, with former shadow home secretary David Davis accusing him of making a "shaky argument" for intervention.

"There was feeling of rushing to action," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme. "It's more important to get this right than to do it on a 10-day timetable".

Syrian refugees at the Cilvegozu crossing gate at Reyhanli in Antakya Refugees from Syria have been crossing the border into Turkey

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has been critical of the decision to not take part in military action, saying the UK was "hugely diminished".

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died since the conflict erupted in March 2011 and at least 1.7 million refugees displaced.

The violence began when anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings were met with a brutal response by the Syrian security forces.

President Assad's regime has blamed foreign involvement and armed gangs for the conflict.

How could a potential strike be launched?
Syria map
Forces which could be used against Syria:

Four US destroyers - USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan - are in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles. The missiles can also be fired from submarines, but the US Navy does not reveal their locations

Airbases at Incirlik and Izmir in Turkey, and in Jordan, could be used to carry out strikes

Two aircraft carriers - USS Nimitz and USS Harry S Truman are in the wider region

French aircraft carrierCharles de Gaulle is currently in Toulon in the western Mediterranean

French Raffale and Mirage aircraft can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE

 

More on This Story

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  • rate this
    +67

    Comment number 1576.

    This all boils down to America hell bent on removing Assad and dragging us into it as usual. Iran and Afghan are both a MESS now after the wars meant to help them, we learn nothing running headlong into another unwinnable war in Syria.

    Let the Arab states decide what to do, its their region apart from the illegal jewish areas which im sure is all the US is interested in defending really...

  • rate this
    -54

    Comment number 1567.

    For those who say that politicians are elected to do the will of the people, you are wrong. They are there to lead and govern. Foreign policy is often unpalatable, never clear cut and influenced by factors most of us don't even consider. That is why we have a department that is manned by largely unelected professionals. Obviously armchair liberals are better informed now. Shame on you Ed Milliband

  • rate this
    -49

    Comment number 1554.

    It's a sad day for the UK that we will not be sending in men to stop Chemical Warfare being used on Civilians but I admire David Cameron by using Government correctly and putting it to a vote - Ed Milliband, you did not speak for the people because know one I know would vote for you but would vote to protect innocent lives and our servicemen have a proud history of putting their lives on the line.

  • rate this
    +53

    Comment number 1549.

    There is another way forward - although it will be unpalatable to some.

    DC should get his ministers to talk to the Russians and Chinese to find out what their difficulties are in getting unanimous agreement at the Security Council.

    Years of conflict in Northern Ireland were only overcome as the result of discussions and seeing other points of view.

  • rate this
    -58

    Comment number 1544.

    I'm a British person, and I'm not with the rest of the popular democracy. We should do something.

 

Comments 5 of 13

 

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  57.  
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  58.  
    13:59: 'Impossible to exclude SNP'

    More on the SNP's strong showing in the opinion polls. Polling expert John Curtice says that given Labour and Conservatives are "virtually neck and neck" at the moment, it looks like it is going to be "impossible after 7 May to form a government without at least the acquiescence of the SNP". What does this mean? Not only has the SNP ruled out making David Cameron prime minister, but their policy demands on matters like Trident and austerity would also be tricky for Labour, he says. This raises questions about how easy it will be for anyone to form a stable government after the election, he adds.

     
  59.  
    13:49: SNP 'tide rising'
    John Curtice

    Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, has been discussing polls that suggested the SNP could win the safest Labour seat in Scotland at the general election. The results largely confirm what many pundits had been saying about the Scottish vote, he says, adding: "The truth is the SNP tide is rising by about 25 points in just about every constituency in Scotland."

     
  60.  
    13:37: Shapps V Powell continued The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Asked how voters will be able to judge Mr Cameron if the debate takes place before the Conservative manifesto is published, Grant Shapps says "people will have a pretty good idea by the end of this month what the different parties want to do". Lucy Powell says Ed Miliband would turn up to the "head-to-head" debate alone, but says he does not want to.

     
  61.  
    13:32: Shapps V Powell The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Back on the TV debates, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps blames the broadcasters, saying they have had five years to sort out arrangements. But Labour's Lucy Powell David Cameron is being "hypocritical", having advocated debates in the past.

     
  62.  
    13:32: Prof on 2010 TV debates The World at One BBC Radio 4

    On the World at One, professor of political communications Stephen Coleman, of Leeds University, says the last TV debates, in 2010, were "remarkably popular". Two thirds of people surveyed afterwards said they had learned something new, while 87% had discussed them with other people, he says. Prof Coleman says people will not be impressed by David Cameron's "final offer", saying they see it as "kind of part of the constitution now".

     
  63.  
    13:25: Farage: UKIP will win double figures

    How many seats will UKIP win at the election, he is asked at the end of his interview on ITV's Loose Women. Nigel Farage says it will be in double figures

     
  64.  
    13:24: Farage: Selfish politicians

    Asked is it all worth it - getting up at 5am and not getting home before midnight - Nigel Farage says you've got to be fairly selfish to get into politics.

     
  65.  
    13:22: 'Fit as a flea'

    "It is really vile" Mr Farage says of the way some politicians are treated by the media. He says he decided to take some time out at the start of the year, but repeats that he is "fit as a flea". He only spends a few hours in the pub each day, he jokes. But his drinking and smoking are "what I actually do", he adds.

     
  66.  
    13:22: TV debates: The numbers

    Away from the political fallout from David Cameron's TV debates ultimatum, the BBC's head of statistics Anthony Reuben has been looking at other multi-leader contests around the world - and how much time might be left for each person to speak.

    Natalie Bennett, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood
     
  67.  
    13:21: Farage on deals

    UKIP is not going to win the election, but will win a "number of MPs". He suggests the party might be in the same position the Lib Dems were in 2010 and says he'll get a much better deal for his party. Asked if he wants to be deputy prime minister, Mr Farage says on Loose Women it's not what he wants to do.

     
  68.  
    13:20: 'Radically change' politics

    Nigel Farage says his life has been "pretty up and down" since he went to school. He says he wants to "radically change" politics - the gap between the wealthy and the rest is getting bigger every year and he wants to address that.

     
  69.  
    13:19: Pic: Farage on Loose Women
    Nigel Farage

    UKIP leader Nigel Farage has just been asked, tongue-in-cheek, on ITV's Loose Women about his "self esteem issues". That got the biggest laugh from the studio audience so far.

     
  70.  
    13:16: Farage on immigration

    Nigel Farage says he wants to ask David Cameron about immigration and how the Conservative leader thinks it can be controlled without leaving the EU at the TV debates. He tells the ITV programme he wants an end to "unskilled" workers coming to the UK.

     
  71.  
    13:14: Farage on debates

    On Loose Women, Nigel Farage says he believes David Cameron is trying to sabotage the TV debate process.

     
  72.  
    13:04: Farage on Loose Women

    Nigel Farage is on Loose Women on ITV soon. At the moment, they're showing him outside having a cigarette and a coffee. The UKIP leader has already tweeted to say he is more nervous than normal.

     
  73.  
    12:59: Grant Shapps on debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    The interview with Tory chairman Grant Shapps on the TV debates is up on our website now. You can watch it here.

     
  74.  
    12:53: Cameron's 'shrewd politics' The Daily Telegraph

    Over on The Daily Telegraph, Rupert Myers has also been analysing the TV debates fall-out. He says David Cameron's decision to only agree to one debate is "shrewd politics". He writes: "Right now, perhaps the greatest electoral asset the Conservatives have is the gulf of public respect and confidence which exists between Cameron and Miliband. A series of TV debates would imperil that advantage."

     
  75.  
    12:49: Broadcasters have 'messed up' The Spectator

    David Cameron's communications director Craig Oliver criticised the broadcasters "deeply unsatisfactory process" for organising the pre-election TV debates in his letter last night. Today, Isabel Hardman has written a piece for The Spectator saying he has a point. She writes: "Though the prime minister is ducking out of them for the selfish reasons outlined here, the blame must ultimately lie with the broadcasters for making it possible for him to do so. They have managed to mess up at every stage of the process."

     
  76.  
    @Nigel_Farage Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

    tweets: I'm about to go on @loosewomen. Slightly more nervous about this panel than I usually am!

     
  77.  
    @BBCWorldatOne World at One

    tweets: Is the PM "running scared" or "unblocking the logjam"? We'll talk TV debates with @grantshapps & @LucyMPowell #wato

     
  78.  
    12:37: Campaigning and babies
    David Cameron

    David Cameron was speaking just now about TV debates during a visit to promote housebuilding policies. It was also a first for Politics Live - the first chance to use a fresh pic of a politician cooing over a baby. We're pretty sure there'll be plenty more to come over the weeks ahead.

     
  79.  
    12:35: Paul Flynn on 'worst ever' PMQs Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Daily politics

    Labour MP Paul Flynn said yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions was "the worst ever" and suggested scrapping the weekly session. He tells Daily Politics there is nothing new about prime ministers not answering questions, but says there is often no connection between the question and the answer now. It drags politics into "further disrepute", Mr Flynn says. He doesn't believed the session can now be reformed and wants a whole new system. Andrew Percy says it's a "pretty unedifying" spectacle but that it serves a purpose, particularly for constituency issues.

     
  80.  
    12:32: Lord Adonis on Scotland

    The Daily Politics is now discussing Labour in Scotland and recent polls suggesting the party could lose most of its seats. Lord Adonis says there is a long way to go in the campaign, telling the programme it is clear that opinion in Scotland is "volatile". Jim Murphy is doing a great job of re-energising the party, he adds. He won't be drawn on whether Labour should rule out of a deal with the SNP before the election.

     
  81.  
    12:31: Polly Toynbee on debates The Guardian

    If Miliband is so weak, why is Cameron so afraid of debating with him? That's the question Polly Toynbee is asking over on the Guardian site today. You can read her thoughts here.

     
  82.  
    @loosewomen Loose Women

    tweets: On today's show: @UKIP leader @Nigel_Farage takes on our women, plus comedian @RealMattLucas will be joining us too! #Elections2015

     
  83.  
    12:20: 'Host debates anyway' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Finally on TV debates on Daily Politics, Labour peer Lord Adonis says the broadcasters should go ahead regardless of David Cameron's views. He suggests the prime minister will be forced to take part if that happens.

     
  84.  
    12:19: 'Workable plan' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    The prime minister's debate plan is "completely workable", says Grant Shapps. Labour peer Lord Adonis says most members of the public think the 2010 debates changed things in terms of TV debates becoming a fixture of UK elections. "To turn the clock back" was a "disservice" to the public, he adds.

     
  85.  
    12:19: Shapps on debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    We've run out of time, Grant Shapps says, to hold the debates as planned by the broadcasters. Let's get the parties in and have a debate just before the election campaign proper, he adds. And he denies the claim his party wanted to avoid the debates at all costs.

     
  86.  
    12:17: Cameron on debates
    David Cameron

    If the debates are held during the campaign people won't talk about anything else - such as the issues that matter, Mr Cameron says. He adds that he has said for the past three years that the debates should take place before the campaign proper begins.

     
  87.  
    12:14: Breaking News

    David Cameron says he wants there to be a TV debate. He says that rather than trying to avoid a debate, he is trying to "unblock the logjam" that the "broadcasters helped to create", so "let's get on, let's have the debate that matters the most". By putting this proposal forward, he says, "we'll actually see one take place".

     
  88.  
    12:11: Shapps on debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Grant Shapps

    Grant Shapps says the approach to debates has been messy. The debates at the last election sucked the life out of the campaign, he adds. There is still no clear sense of what broadcasters want, the Tory chairman adds.

     
  89.  
    12:09: 'Chaos and confusion' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, says there has been "chaos and confusion" over TV debates. He says "lots of people" haven't accepted the proposals.

     
  90.  
    12:05: Ed Miliband on Scotland

    During his earlier interview Mr Miliband was also asked about Scotland and polling which shows his party could lose a number of previously safe seats. The Labour leader said "the fight is on" in Scotland. He added: "I hope people who want to see the back of the Conservatives in Scotland will vote Labour."

     
  91.  
    12:04: Scottish FMQs

    In Scotland, First Minister's questions is under way. Follow it here.

     
  92.  
    11:53: Miliband: Cameron 'running away'
    Ed Miliband

    A bit more from Ed Miliband. He says it is "clear David Cameron is ducking the [head-to-head] debate". He adds: "He should stop ducking and weaving and name the date".

    Mr Miliband says he will take part in the seven leader debate, but continues: "We also need the debate between me and David Cameron". He says he is open to debate the prime minister at any time, in any place. And he adds that the public will no tolerate Mr Cameron "running away".

    On the possibility of a one-on-one debate with Nick Clegg, as suggested by Lord Ashdown, Mr Miliband says it is up to broadcasters.

     
  93.  
    11:47: Breaking News

    Ed Miliband has accused David Cameron of "cowering from the public" over the TV debates. The Labour leader says the British public "deserves" the debate. Mr Miliband says he is ready to debate "any time, any place, anywhere - he should stop ducking and weaving".

     
  94.  
    @BBCNormanS Norman Smith, BBC assistant political editor

    tweets: Ed Miliband accuses PM of "cowering from the public" over #tvdebates

     
  95.  
    Get involved 11:39: Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    Some more comments from Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    No meaningful mass media debate between the main party leaders? Just another example of politicians' disrespect for the population at large. They all think that the ONLY moment of accountability is at the ballot box and violently object to any other forum (unless it`s in their own particular interest).

    John Hyland

    Am I the only one who would be thankful if no debates took place at all? Televised Punch and Judy Politics can be seen every day on the news and in particular at Wednesday's Prime Ministers Questions. This is not informative nor even remotely entertaining.

    David Parker

    The problem is, the Conservative party have backed themselves into a corner. They have been banging on for the last few years how weak a candidate Ed Miliband has been and it's come back to haunt them.

    Expectations of Ed are so low, even an even debate would be a landslide victory for the Labour Party. From the Conservative point of view, it doesn't really make sense to give Labour the platform, where the best they could do is break even.

    Nicholas Williams

    It seems unlikely that any of the party leaders will win a majority in May. They are going to have to work together for the common good of an electorate tired of their silly and destructive adversarial politics.

    Let's make a reality TV show instead. It might be interesting if all the party leaders were shut in a plush stately home with plenty of TV cameras and given a task or do - agree a plan to build an environmentally sustainable economy in the UK would be a good one. There are many more tasks like that to be tackled.

    It would be tempting to make them stay in there until they agreed. In the real world we all need politicians to work together for the common good - something else they would have to agree on.

    It might even make good television. It is what Parliament needs to become after 7 May.

    Simon Court

     
  96.  
    @daily_politics BBC Daily Politics

    tweets: 'Britain now gives away an eye-watering £12bn a year' in foreign aid, says @StanburySteven in his film for Thu #bbcdp

     
  97.  
    11:37: TV debates: Lessons from history Brian Wheeler Political reporter
    John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960

    Nothing gets TV executives salivating - and political leaders quaking - like a live televised debate. Beneath the glare of the studio lights, a politician is at his most exposed. One stumble, a flash of anger, an inappropriate joke, a memory lapse or just a failure to bring your "A Game", and the whole shooting match can be over. The fate of nations sometimes hang in the balance. But the lessons are still there to be learned....

     
  98.  
    11:33: Where do we stand on the TV debates?

    Here's what the main players are saying:

    • David Cameron will only take part in one debate, his communications chief Craig Oliver has said. That debate must feature at least seven leaders and must be held this month. Mr Craig also criticised the "deeply unsatisfactory process" of organising the debates
    • Labour aren't happy. Alastair Campbell has accused Mr Cameron of making "pathetic excuses" to avoid the debates, which he says the prime minister is scared of losing
    • Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has offered to take Mr Cameron's place in the one-on-one debates. He says he would be happy to defend the government's record
    • But Lucy Powell, vice chair of Labour's election campaign, says the head-to-head should be between those who could be prime minister after 7 May
    • SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the prime minister is "clearly running scared of having to answer for his government's record of failure and incompetence"
    • A UKIP spokesman says Mr Cameron is "acting chicken"
    • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says Mr Cameron's behaviour is "unacceptable and arrogant"
    • The Democratic Unionist Party says broadcaster have made a "complete and utter mess" of plans to hold the debates
    • Publically, the broadcasters have said very little. But privately, they seem determined not to buckle, says our assistant political editor Norman Smith
     
  99.  
    11:27: No 10's briefing for political reporters Ben Wright Political correspondent, BBC News

    On TV debates the PM's spokesman referred all questions back to Director of Communications Craig Oliver's letter of last night. Asked if David Cameron was running scared the spokesman said "that is not a premise I would accept".

     
  100.  
    11:23: Shapps on Daily Politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by former Labour minister Andrew Adonis as guest of the day. Conservative chairman Grant Shapps will be talking TV debates. MPs Paul Flynn and Andrew Percy will debate whether PMQs should be abolished, while a film from Giles Dilnot looks at civilian use of drones after a parliamentary report on the issue. And they will be looking at party names after the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party was told by the Electoral Commission that its moniker was "describing women as a sexual object in a demeaning way and would cause offence if it were to appear on ballot paper". You can watch the programme live from 1200-1300, or later, on the Live Coverage tab on this page (if you're reading this on the BBC app, to watch the it live you have to click here and open the page in a browser)

     

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