By Holly Watt & Peter Dominiczak
Daily Telegraph – 31 August 2013
David Cameron was described as "weakened" last night as senior Conservatives rounded on the Prime Minister after his humiliating defeat over Syria. One MP said that the Government's plans for a military strike had been "suicidal". Another called Downing Street's management of the vote "shambolic". The comments threaten one of the most serious crises of Mr Cameron's leadership.
Dozens of Tories rebelled on Thursday evening, after being ordered to rush back from summer recess. Thirty voted against the principle of a strike on Syria. A further 31 abstained. Several said that they were concerned about the intelligence and legal advice provided before the vote, which went against the Government by 285 votes to 272.
Senior Tories said the evidence failed to prove that the Syrian regime had been responsible for the nerve gas attack in Damascus last week. Other MPs criticised Downing Street's attempts to bounce them into agreeing to an attack, repeating errors made in Iraq and Afghanistan.
David Davis, who has repeatedly rebelled, said that it was
"more important to get this right than to do it within a 10-day timetable. You may be killing conscript soldiers, you may actually kill civilians, but you're going to kill people,"
said the MP for Haltemprice and Howden.
Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Commons public administration committee who backed the Government, nevertheless said that the Attorney General should have made a statement to the House on the legal case:
"Against the background of the legacy of Iraq, it is not surprising the House voted so strongly to reflect public opinion."
Julian Lewis, the MP for New Forest East, said:
"What is happening in Syria is appalling and atrocious, but I still don't think we can allow yet another Arab dictatorship to convert to an Islamist state – and in this case allow chemical weapons to fall into the hands of thousands of al-Qaeda fighters. It is a suicidal policy."
Sir Richard Shepherd, the MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, said that the rebellion showed a lack of experience in Downing Street, which had failed to sound out MPs properly.
"Of course [the Prime Minister] must be weakened by this. I can't think in the 34 years that I have been in the Commons of any prime minister losing such a vote,"
he added. He complained that the whips had not contacted the 80 MPs who signed a letter from Andrew Bridgen to Mr Cameron in June, demanding a vote on sending weapons to the Syrian rebels.
One rebel MP, who did not want to be named, added:
"The whipping operation only started properly on the day of the vote and they didn't realise they were staring into a black hole until about 3pm. It was shocking – Sir George Young's [the Chief Whip] position is not looking good. The party management completely messed this up."
The Prime Minister insisted that the Whips' Office had done a "good job".
"There was a huge amount of contact with colleagues, a lot of discussions, many of which I held myself,"
said Mr Cameron.
"I made a sincere and I believe powerful argument, but people have equally sincere and powerful views in a different way. That's what Parliament's for, that's what democracy is for. We vote, we decide and then we act accordingly."
TORY REBELS: THE 30 WHO VOTED AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT
The 30 Tory MPs who voted against the Government were: David Amess (Southend West), Richard Bacon (Norfolk South), Steven Baker (Wycombe), John Baron (Basildon & Billericay), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford), David Davies (Monmouth), Philip Davies (Shipley), David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden), Nick de Bois (Enfield North), Richard Drax (Dorset South), Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey), Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Adam Holloway (Gravesham), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Julian Lewis (New Forest East), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Stephen McPartland (Stevenage), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Anne-Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills), Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth & Horncastle), Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), Chris White (Warwick & Leamington), Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes).
The Tory former education minister Tim Loughton (Worthing East & Shoreham) voted in both lobbies - a technical abstention.
The 31 Tory MPs who did not vote were: Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Bill Cash (Stone), Christopher Chope (Christchurch), Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe), Geoffrey Cox (Devon West & Torridge), Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid), Alan Duncan (Rutland & Melton), David Gauke (Hertfordshire South West), Justine Greening (Putney), Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden), Chris Kelly (Dudley South), Pauline Latham (Derbyshire Mid), Edward Leigh (Gainsborough), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West), Jack Lopresti (Filton & Bradley Stoke), Anne Main (St Albans), Jesse Norman (Hereford & Herefordshire South), Jim Paice (Cambridgeshire South East), Priti Patel (Witham), John Redwood (Wokingham), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds), Mark Simmonds (Boston & Skegness), Rory Stewart (Penrith & The Border), David Tredinnick (Bosworth), Andrew Tyrie (Chichester), Bill Wiggin (Herefordshire North), Tim Yeo (Suffolk South). The former Tory MP Patrick Mercer (Newark), who lost the whip earlier this year also failed to vote.
[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]