30/08/2013 17:15 BST | Updated 30/10/2013 05:12 GMT

The Commons Vote on Syria Is a Tragedy


The vote in the recalled House of Commons on Syria will not stop the brutal regime in that country murdering its own people; it will encourage them to press on. The vote will not silence the screams of Assad's victims, like those targeted in the recent napalm style attack near a school at Urum al Kubra, close to Aleppo. Extremist groups fighting in the civil war that is raging will rejoice at the vote. They will tell those fighting for their lives that the west will not come to their aid; that they are alone and have no friends. They will tell them how Britain betrayed their families and looked away when their daughter's body lay packed in ice in a temporary mortuary.

People have rightly raised their concerns that any kind of military intervention comes with risks, but so does doing nothing. When in the next weeks and months we see further atrocities committed by Assad, and again chemical weapons used against civilians will we thank ourselves that we did nothing to try and prevent their use. I doubt it.

I personally believe that the vote in the House of Commons was a tragedy. We were not voting on going to war or sanctioning any kind of military action; that was for a future debate. We were voting on whether or not to support an international process by which we would determine the Assad regime's responsibility for the chemical weapons attack, and decide what action could legitimately be taken against him for such a serious breach of international law. The vote in the House of Commons means that even if the United Nations inspectors report that chemical weapons were used in Syria; even if the international community continues to accept that Assad was responsible; and even, in the admittedly unlikely event that the UN Security Council approves a motion sanctioning the use of military force against Assad, Britain would not support this effort. Of course, a UN Security Council resolution is not in itself a requirement for a legitimate international action to stop murderous suppression, and was not obtainable prior to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1998.

The war in Syria is not our war, but its consequences are very much our concern. A humanitarian disaster in an already unstable region, on the edge of Europe is something we cannot ignore. An Arab civil war raging like an out of control forest fire, lunging violently in any direction it chooses is something that should concern the world.

The Government should continue its important efforts for peace in Syria and justice for the victims of Assad, but it does of course have to respect the view of the House of Commons. War is not popular, and since 1914 it rightly never has been. It should be remembered that less than a year from the outbreak of World War Two crowds in London cheered in the streets at the news that Britain was going to stand aside and let the Nazis annex part of Czechoslovakia. Winston Churchill said of the decision that, "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war." I hope that the failure to take action against Assad now, does not necessitate an even greater response in the future.