North Staffs MPs vote against ‘knee-jerk’ military action in government defeat over Syria

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30 Aug 2013

Four Members of Parliament from North Staffordshire combined to help defeat the government in the historic House of Commons vote last night over British involvement in military action against Syria.

Prime Minister David Cameron lost the crucial Commons division about intervening in the country’s civil war by 285 votes to 272 following his decision to recall Parliament early over the latest use of chemical weapons in the conflict.

Thirty Conservative MPs, along with nine of the 57 Liberal Democrats, joined with Labour and all the other opposition parties to defeat approving military action in principle, before the United Nations had considered the issue and UN weapons inspectors had finished their work.

As a result, the government said the UK would not now join military action, which the US was planning to launch imminently.

During the debate, Paul Farrelly – Labour’s MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme – drew attention to Parliament being taken for granted by commitments already given by the Government to join air and cruise missile strikes, and the danger of swift, highly visible retaliatory action being confused with a more considered, effective response.
‘The House tonight has done its job properly, both in the vote and the run-up to the recall of Parliament,’ Mr Farrelly said after the vote, the first time in 230 years that the Commons has over-ruled the government over the use of Britain’s armed forces overseas.

‘It has put a brake on a timetable for a knee-jerk military reaction, which was being determined elsewhere. It has learned the lessons of Iraq and listened to the people in the country, who are overwhelmingly sceptical.’

‘The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and the Assad regime in Syria is repellent. The lesson of recent history, though, is not to act without properly weighing the consequences.’

‘That, of course, is not the same as standing idly by, with no humanitarian or political response at all. That is the message from the thoughtful Commons debate and vote tonight,’ Mr Farrelly added.

Stoke-on-Trent’s three Labour MPs Rob Flello, Tristram Hunt and Joan Walley were also part of the majority vote against the coalition government.

In the run-up to the vote Labour leader Ed Miliband consulted his MPs over their thoughts, and the overall views of constituents, before setting down the Party’s amendment to the government’s resolution, which the Prime Minister and his Liberal Democrat Deputy Nick Clegg roundly rejected.

The 7 ½ hour debate also saw a number of Conservative MPs, who supported the government at the end of the day, warn about the consequences of action further inflaming conflicts in the Middle East. 

In concluding the debate, Mr Clegg came under sustained barracking from sceptical Tory and Labour MPs after failing to answer what constituted ‘direct’ British involvement – in particular, whether the government would allow British bases in Cyprus to be used without a further Commons vote.

After the defeat, Mr Cameron said he would respect the decision and appeared to rule out British help for US-led strikes in the coming days. The commitment, and what Britain can best do to help resolve the fraught situation in Syria, will come under further scrutiny when Parliament returns next week.

According to media commentators, the last such Government defeat was on 27th February, 1782 to stop further action against the US, paving the way for an end to the American War of Independence.