An influential committee of MPs that “failed” David Cameron’s case for war in Syria did so after two members were ill and would have overturned the result if they were able to attend, its chairman has said.
The Foreign Affairs Committee last night agreed by a majority vote that the Prime Minister had “not adequately addressed” concerns over issues including ground troops, diplomacy and reconstruction.
Their critical initial report had prompted the Prime Minister to make the case for military action, setting out what he claimed was a “comprehensive” approach to the crisis in Syria.
Last week, the committee’s Conservative chairman, Crispin Blunt, gave his personal view that Mr Cameron had done enough to win his support.
But other MPs feared Mr Blunt’s comments misrepresented the majority view and “where the committee had got to”, one serving member told HuffPost UK. The committee met yesterday and voted 4 to 3 not to give the Prime Minister their approval.
How the Foreign Affairs Committee voted
But during today’s debate in the House of Commons, Mr Blunt made clear his unease with the result and said absent committee members - Labour’s Mike Gapes and Ann Clwyd - would have backed the Prime Minister’s case.
Mr Gapes, a long-standing proponent of strikes, was taken to hospital earlier this week suffering from chest pains. Ms Clwyd has come down with pneumonia and expressed her view to the committee chairman today.
Labour MP Mark Hendrick is listed as attending the meeting but not voting. In any case, votes from Mr Gapes and Ms Clwyd and a casting vote from Mr Blunt as chairman would have carried the vote for pro-airstrike MPs.
Mr Blunt's comments came as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted to use the committee’s decision to undermine the Prime Minister ahead of the crunch vote this evening.
Mr Corbyn said: “The committee judged that the Prime Minister’s case for bombing has failed its test.”
But Mr Blunt immediately responded that the committee’s full complement “would have resisted” that motion, adding national security concerns mean “it is almost impossible” for the Prime Minister to “adequately meet those concerns”.
“It is a very weak position to rely on,” he told the Labour leader. “He ought to go for the substance.”
One member of the committee told The Huffington Post that any suggestion of a conspiracy should be dismissed, and distracted from genuinely held fears that the Government was “going down the Iraq/Libya route where there is a lack of long-term planning”.
There was more than one attempt to hold a vote and time was running out for the majority view to emerge after the Prime Minister only called tonight’s vote on Monday, the member added.
They suggested there was a feeling ex-minister Mr Blunt “did not want to be seen as a member of the awkward squad” so early in his career as a committee chair.
Read more below
The row continued on to the floor of the House of Commons chamber, with committee members expressing conflicting views on airstrikes.
Conservative MP Nadim Zahawi, who supports strikes, said: “I’ve just had an email from someone who I’ll keep anonymous because they’re working in Raqqa.
“And they say this: ‘Daesh are the death that is stretching from the East. When you see them, it is as if you are seeing the angel of death. They are in Raqqa right now. How can I carry on exposing my child to severed heads and hanging bodies on a daily basis?’ A mother, in Raqqa.”
But his Conservative colleague, John Baron, said: “The reason a number of us opposed the motion about airstrikes in Iraq last year was simply that we did not feel then - and I still have great reservations now - that we had a comprehensive plan. We have not beaten ISIL in Iraq, despite nearly 1 million security forces on the Government payroll. That brings us on to Syria, because we have nothing near that in Syria and we still do not have that plan.”
And SNP MP Stephen Gethins told Mr Blunt: “Earlier on, he talked about where we should sit on this issue. It says in our report that, during our evidence, several witnesses suggested that by participating in military action against ISIL in Syria, the UK would compromise its diplomatic capability.”