Manchester MPs slam David Cameron’s plans for military action in dramatic Commons vote

By Dan Windham

The UK will not take military action against Syria after MPs, including many from Manchester, rejected David Cameron’s proposal in the House of Commons last night.

Cameron’s desire to punish the Assad regime with military action was defeated by just 13 with a vote of 285-272.

It means the UK will not follow the US’s proposed armed response to the chemical attacks allegedly carried out by the Syrian regime.

Oldham West and Royton MP Michael Meacher questioned the legality of such a move during last night’s debate.

He said: “We are asked by the Government tonight to approve a so-called strong humanitarian response, with the implication of using force in principle and a second vote after the UN inspectors have reported.

“But there is no case in international law for this military attack—neither with a UN Security Council resolution authorising it, nor under article 51 of the UN charter, which permits a right of self-defence, but that clearly does not apply to a chemical gas attack in eastern Damascus.”

The timing of the attack was called into question by Gorton MP Sir Gerald Kauffman last night who cited Israel as an example of another country who has used chemical weapons in the past.

He said: “Syria did not start having an evil regime last week or two years ago; it has had an evil regime for a generation.

“The murder of 10,000 people in Hama is evidence of that. The world did not criticise in any way whatever.

We are told that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, if proved, transforms the situation. It would certainly make the situation ghastly, disgusting and abominable.

“However, Syria is not the only country in the middle east to have used chemical weapons in warfare.

“Israel used white phosphorous in its attack in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead—I saw the consequences for myself when I went there—but Israel gets away with it because it is on the right side of what is regarded as civilised opinion.

Although Cameron was adamant that limited military strikes would deter potential future chemical weapons attack, Manchester MPs remained unconvinced further violence would help.

Labour representatives failed to see how the proposed plan would produce a long-term peaceful outcome after Syrian president Bashar al-Assad confirmed the country would defend itself against any aggression

In a drafted speech for the debate Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth said the UK was ‘kidding themselves if they think that some tit for tat response’ would end Syrian violence.

It read:  “The militarisation of what began as a peaceful political protest has taken over and detracts from what ordinary Syrians and these civil society groups are seeking to do – create a democratic and inclusive society.

“Only a negotiated, political solution can help them provide a sustained peaceful future.”

With the threat of possible retaliation from Syria, Russia, China and Iran if the UK did follow Cameron’s desire for military action, MPs were all too wary of similarities with Iraq in 2003.

Though David Cameron and William Hague were unyielding in their assurance there was no comparison between this and Iraq, Manchester MPs were cautious of the dangerous effects of the Iraq war.

Mr Meacher said: “There is a very real danger of the West being sucked into a long term war that it cannot win and that will only expose its impotence, as has happened already in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Sir Gerald Kauffman asked:  “How many casualties, including among civilians, would it cause? Anyone who has been in Syria knows that this is not a nice regime that will behave as we want.”

Cameron’s authority over the matter took a staggering blow when 39 Tory rebels and 9 Liberal democrats voted against his motion, making him the first British Prime Minister in history to lose a vote on war.

The decision left Parliament in disarray prompting Education Secretary Michael Gove to shout “disgrace, you’re a disgrace” at the rebels.

While the vote does mean there will be no military action in Syria, Cameron and Manchester MPs were quick to assert that other methods should be used to put pressure on Assad.

It appears the US is still favouring a surgical strike on Syria but would continue to consult with the UK as Labour leader Ed Milliband stressed the need for calm and measured solutions to the crisis.

Mr Meacher suggested a range of alternative political solutions to settle the Syrian conflict, insisting that Assad should be arraigned before the International Criminal Court.

He said: “We should freeze Syrian assets throughout the West and impose travel bans on all members of the Syrian leadership deemed responsible for the atrocities.

“Above all we should press much harder for a regional peace conference, to achieve a settlement involving all the relevant parties, including the Russians.” 

Image courtesy of BBC video via YouTube, with thanks.

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