Military action against Syria has been ruled out following a late-night vote by MPs that dealt a severe blow to David Cameron’s authority.
The Prime Minister lost a vote calling for the use of force ‘if necessary’ by 285 votes to 272, a majority of 13.
Thirty Tory MPs, including Aldridge-Brownhills’ Sir Richard Shepherd, voted against the Government after it sought support for a tough response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Speaking during a lengthy Commons debate, Sir Richard said: “We have gone from an assumption to a declaration that we know that Assad did that. I could not support that under any circumstances, because I believe in some form of due process that identifies the perpetrator.”
Sir Richard added that he had been a ‘victim’ of past ‘dossiers and information’, a clear reference to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’.
MPs were recalled to Parliament yesterday, four days before they were due back from the summer recess. It left some thinking that military action would come as soon as this weekend. But after talks with Labour leader Ed Miliband, the Government watered down its stand and accepted opposition demands that direct UK involvement required a second vote following a probe by United Nations weapons inspectors.
But the concession fell short of winning over enough coalition MPs, conscious that public opinion is against any intervention.
Following the shock result, and to shouts of ‘resign’ from the Labour benches, Mr Cameron 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.”
Walsall North Labour MP David Winnick said: “We’ve all learned lessons. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan we found out how difficult it is to resolve matters.”