POLITICS

Cameron To Still 'Oppose' Assad Despite Humiliating Reversal On Parliamentary Vote (VIDEO)

30/08/2013 21:23 BST | Updated 30/08/2013 21:35 BST

David Cameron remains committed to opposing President Bashar Assad, despite being neutered by Thursday evening’s historic Commons vote that blocked the government’s plans to allow British forces to take part in a strike on Syria.

The dramatic reversal in which MPs, including 30 Tory rebels, voted against a motion advocating military action to protect Syrian citizens has left President Obama in the position of having to launch an attack without Washington’s staunchest ally.

"Politics is difficult," Cameron reflected on Friday, however the prime minister said he would not be apologising to Obama as "there was no need".

Having scuppered the Government's push for a parliamentary consensus, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that Britain should not "wash its hands" of Syria, however Cameron has already ruled out allowing British military forces to act without the approval of the Commons so Britain's involvement will at best be diplomatic.

david cameron

Cameron remains opposed to Assad but has ruled out British military intervention

Reflecting on the international response to the crisis in the Middle East, on Friday Cameron said: "I think it's important we have a robust response to the use of chemical weapons and there are a series of things we will continue to do. We will continue to take a case to the United Nations, we will continue to work in all the organisations we are members of - whether the EU, or Nato, or the G8 or the G20 - to condemn what's happened in Syria.

"It's important we uphold the international taboo on the use of chemical weapons. But one thing that was proposed, the potential - only after another vote - involvement of the British military in any action, that won't be happening.

"That won't be happening because the British Parliament, reflecting the great scepticism of the British people about any involvement in the Middle East, and I understand that, that part of it won't be going ahead."

On Friday, one of the world's leading experts on chemical weapons warned that the United States and its allies should wait for firm evidence on the use of chemical weapons in Syria before they launch any action against the Assad regime

Speaking exclusively to the HuffPost UK, Jean Pascal Zanders, who until May 2013 was a senior research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), said that Syrian civilians were "asphyxiated" in Ghouta, east of Damascus, on 21 August, but "we don't know what the agent is. Everyone is saying sarin. There is something clearly to do with a neurotoxicant [such as sarin] but not everything is pointing in that direction."

However, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday afternoon that American intelligence had concluded with "high confidence" that the regime in Syria was responsible for last week's alleged attack in Damascus, adding that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in the attack, including 426 children.

david cameron

MPs voted against the Government's motion to intervene in Syria on Thursday

More from the Press Association:

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will meet with representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council in New York later to discuss the latest developments in Syria.

Miliband's decision to oppose the Prime Minister's motion on Syria despite Cameron offering concessions including the prospect of a second vote authorising direct British military involvement sparked fury in No 10 and led to accusations he was providing "succour" to Assad.

Asked if Miliband had behaved "dishonourably", the Prime Minister said: "It's a matter for him to defend the way he behaved and his conduct."

The Labour leader said Cameron must now "find other ways" to put pressure on Assad. "There are other routes than military means to actually help the people of Syria," he said. "I don't think the Government should wash its hands of this issue.

"I think all of the focus of the Prime Minister and the Government in the coming days needs to be working with our allies to find other ways to press President Assad, to take action with our allies to put the diplomatic, political and other pressure that needs to be put on the Government there.

"We need the peace talks to get going. So there are other things the Government should be doing."

He added that Britain "doesn't need reckless and impulsive leadership, it needs calm and measured leadership".

The constraint put on Cameron's ability to act on the global stage as a result of the vote has led to questions about the status of the UK.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown said the UK was "hugely diminished" as a result of MPs' refusal to agree to the principle of military intervention and Chancellor George Osborne acknowledged there would now be "soul searching" about the nation's role but warned: "I hope this doesn't become a moment where we turn our back on all of the world's problems."

Ministers have acknowledged the decision not to allow British forces to take part in action could put a strain on the special relationship with Washington.

Osborne said: "Obviously it would have been better from the point of view of the special relationship if we were able to take part in any military action, should that military action take place, alongside the Americans."

But he insisted there had been "hyperbole" over the extent of any damage to the relationship with the US.

Cameron said he disagreed with Lord Ashdown's assessment of the UK's status and insisted the Government and Parliament remain "deeply engaged in the world".

Highlighting the UK's military power and diplomatic influence, he said: "We have great strengths as a country, we should continue to use those.

"But on this specific issue, because of the huge concerns about this appalling Syrian conflict and people worrying about how we might get sucked into it, on that specific issue that trumped, as it were, the sense of outrage about the chemical weapons. I understand that, I get that."

Despite the rebellion by 30 Tory MPs Cameron defended the party's whips and said he had been involved in talks with potential rebels.

"I think the whips did do a good job, there was a huge amount of contact with colleagues, a lot of discussions, many of which I held myself. I made a sincere and, I believe, powerful argument, but people have equally sincere and powerful views in a different way. That's what Parliament's for, that's what democracy is for. We vote, we decide and then we act accordingly."

Cameron's motion was defeated by 285 to 272, a majority of 13 but it emerged 10 members of the Government did not take part in the crucial vote. The Prime Minister said he had accepted an apology from Cabinet minister Justine Greening and Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds who missed the vote after apparently failing to hear the bells which ring in the Commons to summon MPs into the lobbies.

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said the Commons vote was "historic". She said: "For the first time in decades, the UK refused to support a US-led war. Politicians from all parties voted against an attack on Syria. It not only reflects public opinion and the culmination of over a decade of anti-war campaigning, but also represents a break with the UK's default setting of backing US wars. For once, a majority of our elected officials were in step with the British public - who don't believe that bombing Syria is the answer to the tragic and complex problems it is facing.

"We will continue to fight a US attack on Syria, as well as any complicity by the British Government. British bases must not be allowed to be used by the US in a war which this country does not want any involvement in."

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said: "We didn't stop the war on Iraq in 2003 but we have stopped this war. We have continued to campaign, to hold Tony Blair and his cronies to account, to rebut the arguments of the warmongers.

"The result last night can only be seen as the legacy of that movement, and it will be a turning point in stopping the wars and starting the peace."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he was "slightly apprehensive" about US forces taking action without UK backup and said the British military would find it difficult to watch the French taking their place.

He told Channel 4 News: "I'm disappointed and, if I'm honest, I'm slightly apprehensive because we have a very close working relationship with the Americans. It's a difficult time for our Armed Forces having prepared to go into this action to then be stood down and have to watch while the US acts alone, or perhaps the US acts with France.

"It's certainly a reversal of the usual position and it will be an uncomfortable place for many people in the British Armed Forces who are used to working alongside the Americans as an everyday normal course of business situation. Seeing the Americans working with the French while we stand and watch will not be a comfortable place."

Hammond insisted there was still a "high level of communication" between the UK and US.