By Andrew Grice, Political Editor
Independent – 30 August 2013
The prospect of British involvement in military action in Syria ended dramatically last night when David Cameron suffered a surprise and humiliating Commons defeat on the issue. Despite concessions by the Prime Minister to opponents of military action, a rebellion by Conservative MPs and strong opposition by Labour saw the Government defeated by 285 votes to 272.
The vote leaves Mr Cameron's foreign policy in disarray and will raise new questions over his leadership. He is unable to deliver British support to American-led strikes on Syria over the Assad regime's alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians near Damascus.
The vote will dismay the Obama administration, which is now likely to press ahead without the UK, perhaps as early as this weekend. One US military official said after the vote: "We care about what the UK thinks. We value the [Parliamentary] process but we're going to make the decision we need to make."
The rejected government motion said the response to the weapons attack "may, if necessary, require military action". Although Mr Cameron promised a second vote next week before any British involvement, he failed to win support last night for what Labour described as a vote in principle for military action.
The Prime Minister immediately abandoned his plan for British involvement in Syria. He told MPs:
"I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons. But I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly."
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THE DEBATE – KEY POINTS
"This situation is not like Iraq. What we are seeing in Syria is fundamentally different. We are not invading a country. We are not searching for chemical or biological weapons. The case for ultimately supporting action ... is not based on a specific piece or pieces of intelligence. The fact that the Syrian government has, and has used, chemical weapons is beyond doubt."
Leader of the Labour Party
"The weapons inspectors are in the midst of their work and will be reporting in the coming days. That is why today could not have been the day on which the House was asked to decide on military action. It is surely a basic point for this House that evidence should precede decision, not decision precede evidence."
"Nobody thought that the assassination of an obscure archduke [Franz Ferdinand] would lead to a global conflagration [WW1]. This is a powder keg and we should not be lobbing weapons into the heart of such combustible material."
Labour, former Foreign Secretary
"The Government has yet to prove its case...We're pretty clear that the culpability is likely to have been that of the Assad regime, but there was very strong evidence about what we all thought Saddam had."
Conservative. Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee
"Do we just say 'well, never mind', sit on our hands while atrocities continue taking place. With everything in life there is a red line, there is a straw that breaks the camel's back – and this is it."
Conservative, former Defence Secretary
"We must also focus on the consequences of not taking action, on the consequences for the Syrian people. Does it make them more or less safe from the use of such weapons in the future? ... What signal would we send [to other regimes]?"
"We know [the Assad regime] is bad enough to do it, but is it mad enough? To launch a chemical weapons attack on the day an inspection team arrives must be a new definition of madness. How mad is [Assad] going to be when we launch a blizzard of missiles?"
Conservative, former Foreign Office Minister
"They [Syrian rebels] are the only people who actually have the motive that fits this crime ... We must consider ... that our intelligence as it stands might just be wrong, because it was before, and we've got to be very, very hard in testing it."
"Why would Assad do it? What's in it for them? Because dictators have one unifying thing in common - they want to remain in power. So why on Earth would they wish to bring upon themselves cruise and Tomahawk missiles?"
Green Party MP
"Backbench and opposition MPs can make a difference ??? This is a good day for Parliament and a good day for public pressure. It is clear to me these things [backbench influence] have caused the Government to think twice."
Liberal Democrat MP
"I believe that my constituents, like those of the rest of the House, want the Prime Minister to make clear on behalf of this country that we will not turn away from the illegal use of chemical weapons, but that we will give peace a chance."
[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]