Denying MPs A Vote On Syria 'Undemocratic', Says John Bercow

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow gestures during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow gestures during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.

John Bercow has told David Cameron that it would be "undemocratic" to arm the Syrian rebels without giving parliament a vote, amid suspicions the government may try and bypass the Commons.

However William Hague told MPs on Tuesday morning the government would not pursue any policy that was "against the will of the House of Commons" as it would not be "feasible or desirable".

"I have made that clear there will be a vote and we would exepct that to be before any such [action]," he said. "Of course we will have a vote on an issue of that kind in the House of Commons."

Pressed by unconvinced MPs further on whether there would be a vote, an exasperated Hague, who had sat down, replied: "Yes!"

Last week president Obama said the United States would begin arming the anti-Assad forces. David Cameron has attempted to ramp up the pressure on the Syrian regime by forcing the lifting of the EU arms embargo.

Downing Street has repeatedly insisted no decisions have yet been taken. And Cameron has previously said the Commons would have "a say" on whether the rebels should be armed by the UK.

However MPs from all parties have been suspicious the prime minister was deliberately leaving himself wiggle room to deliver weapons, or take other military action, before any debate or vote were held.

Former Labour Foreign Office minister Peter Hain told Hague today it should be made "crystal clear" that a vote should be held to authorise other actions that fell short of arming the rebels including participating in a no-fly zone or helping with training.

Bercow sought to reassure MPs that a vote was the only "democratic course". He told the Commons any thoughts Cameron had of avoiding a vote should be "speedily expunged" from the prime minister's mind as "undemocratic and inappropriate".

Hague was seen to be nodding in agreement as Bercow spoke.

It appears highly unlikely the government could win a Commons vote as military intervention is opposed by Labour, the Lib Dems as well as a substantial number of Tory backbenchers.

A senior Tory source told The Sunday Times: "The bottom line is that we will avoid at all costs a vote as we don’t think we can win it."

The briefing has led many MPs to suspect Cameron may try and bypass parliament. However Hague told the Commons today the prime minister was committed to a vote.

"There aren't any more senior Tories than the prime minister," he said, before adding: "Occasionally one or two may think they are."

Hague also issued a warning on the plight of the Syrian rebels: "The crisis is getting worse, we need a political solution and we are not going to get a solution if the moderate and more pragmatic parts [of the opposition] are exterminated over the coming months."

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