UK House of Commons vote against Syria intervention

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Friday, August 30, 2013

The United Kingdom House of Commons voted 272–285 last night against proposed possible military action against Syria following claims the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians. The government motion was defeated by opposition from the Labour Party, as well as rebel MPs from both the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties.

David Cameron argued the recent events in Syria were a "humanitarian catastrophe, and if there are no consequences for it, there is nothing to stop Assad and other dictators from using these weapons again and again". The motion rejected by the Commons said the House "agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action", and such action would be "legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria's chemical weapons".

Thirty Conservative MPs and nine Liberal Democrats voted against their party against military intervention. Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the proposal to go to war was an "ill-thought through action", it lacked international support, and Cameron had acted in a "cavalier and reckless" manner.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg said the sole intention of the government's motion was to "relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons. Nothing more, nothing less. Not invasion. Not regime change... President Obama's intentions are highly limited and so are ours."

The former foreign secretary and Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind said during the debate: "The Assad regime in Damascus are watching very carefully as to whether they will get away with what they have done."

Opposition came also from Britain's smaller parties: Caroline Lucas from the Green Party said the actions "cannot be justified", and expressed concern that the United Kingdom would be "flouting international law" by going into Syria. Respect MP George Galloway argued there was "no compelling evidence" of Syrian government involvement in the chemical weapons attack.

Labour proposed an opposing motion that called for the government to present "compelling" evidence before action, which was rejected as well as the government's motion. The defeat of the government motion for military intervention has surprised some. Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said "Parliament is entirely unpredictable sometimes and I don't think many people saw this coming."

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, confirmed that following the vote, the country would not participate in any action in Syria, but he noted he expected the United States to carry on without the UK, anticipating "the US and other countries will continue to look at responses to the chemical attack. They will be disappointed that Britain will not be involved. I don't expect that the lack of British participation will stop any action."

Hammond noted the rejection of military intervention would strain the "special relationship" between Britain and the United States.

The former leader of the British Army, General Lord Dannatt, said the vote in the Commons was a "victory for common sense".

The United States has said they will still seek military action against the Syrian regime. US defense secretary Chuck Hagel said the US would seek to build an "international coalition". Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House, reacted to the British vote by saying: "The US will continue to consult with the UK Government — one of our closest allies and friends."

Hayden said that President Obama "will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States", and that Obama "believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States... countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable".

Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the White House had told them "beyond a doubt [...] chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime", and that there is evidence from intercepted communications of involvement by "high-level Syrian officials".

The Parliamentary vote on intervention in Syria is on the front pages of many of the national newspapers in Britain, with The Times claiming Cameron was "humiliated" by the vote.


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