British voters are not in the "mood" to be drawn into the Syrian war and arming rebels could make the conflict worse, MPs said today.
By Rowena Mason, Political Correspondent
Telegraph Online – 28 May 2013
A number of MPs have raised fears Britain is too close to intervening in the crisis after the EU lifted an arms embargo on selling weapons to insurgents. William Hague said there has been no decision on whether to sell arms to opponents of Bashar Al-Assad, whose regime has been blamed for a conflict killing 90,000 people.
Speaking on BBC Radio Four, the Foreign Secretary said the UK will only
"send arms to anybody in carefully controlled circumstances, in company with other countries and with accordance with international law".
However, MPs said they were "nervous" that weapons supplied to rebel groups could fall into the hands of extreme Islamists, especially after last week's terror attack in Woolwich.
John Redwood, a Tory MP and former ... minister, said many in parliament are opposed to the idea of arming insurgents.
“I’m very nervous if this is going to be a prelude to arming the rebels,"
he told BBC.
"There’s a very strong mood in the country that we should be reluctant to be drawn into this Syrian conflict.
"There’s a very strong feeling that many Conservative backbenchers have, that whilst we hate the Assad regime as much as the Government, we think intervention might make it worse rather than better.”
Julian Lewis, another Tory MP, said it was not a good plan to send weapons to a country where some rebel groups are linked to the terrorist al-Qaeda organisation.
“In short I don’t think it’s a good idea for Britain to arm the opposition,"
"There are a variety of reasons: 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-Qaeda linked militants are fighting not on the side of the atrocious Assad but on the side of the opposition.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, a former Liberal Democrat leader and member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said the UK would “regret” the decision.
“Weapons will be sent to the Syrian opponents of Assad with no prospect that he will be persuaded to change his stance or any guarantee that such weapons will not fall into the hands of extremists,”
Lord Foulkes, a former Labour shadow defence minister, also condemned the action.
“This is a move straight out of the guidebook on ‘How to escalate a conflict with fatal consequences,"
"The decision by the EU, championed by the Conservatives in Government, will surely lead to an even more severe loss of life in Syria”.
However, others backed Mr Hague's move to argue for the arms embargo to be lifted. Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat MP and foreign affairs spokesman, said MPs are "nervous" and "uneasy" about the sale of arms to rebels. However, he told The Telegraph there should be further debate about the prospect as it is "difficult to imagine much worse" than the slaughter currently going on in Syria.