'DOWNING STREET REFUSES TO SAY IF MPs WILL VOTE ON ARMING SYRIAN REBELS'
PM's spokesman says no decision has been taken to supply arms to Syrian opposition as EU lifts embargo
By Andrew Sparrow
Guardian – 28 May 2013
Downing Street has refused to say whether MPs will be given the chance to vote on any decision to send arms to Syria following the EU's decision to lift its arms embargo. The Prime Minister's spokesman stressed that the government had not taken a decision to arm the Syrian opposition in the light of the EU decision, and indicated that Downing Street hoped that the threat of arms being supplied would persuade the Syrian government to enter negotiations. Asked whether Britain would arm the rebels, the spokesman said:
"The prime minister's view is that it is right that we have the flexibility to respond if [Bashar al-Assad's] regime refused to negotiate. What we are doing is sending a signal, loud and clear, to the regime."
Syrian peace talks are planned for Geneva next month and the spokesman indicated that Britain wanted the Syrian government to participate.
"What we need is a transitional regime [for Syria] that is supported by both sides, including the [opposition] Syrian National Coalition,"
said the spokesman. As part of that process, Assad would have to go.
Ministers have said that they are committed to parliament having a vote on any decision to send British troops to war. The Conservative party manifesto spoke about making the royal prerogative (giving ministers the power to go to war)
"subject to greater democratic control".
But the coalition has resisted suggestions that they should codify this commitment in the form a new law, arguing that ministers need to retain some flexibility. On Tuesday the Prime Minister's spokesman refused to say whether MPs would vote on any decision to arm the Syrian rebels. Asked if such a vote would take place, the spokesman said:
"We are in 'if' territory. Clearly, the government keeps parliament regularly updated."
Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, said that he opposed arming the Syrian opposition. Lewis, a "hawk on defence matters'', told BBC News:
"I don't think it's a good idea. We've just seen some atrocious footage and atrocities are what atrocious governments like Assad's specialise in. However, you have to look at the opposition as well. William Hague has confirmed in the House of Commons that several thousand al-Qaida-linked militants are fighting not on the side of the atrocious Assad but on the side of the opposition."