More than 50 Labour MPs have failed to back a bid by Jeremy Corbyn to embarrass the Government over Parliamentary votes on future military action.
Dozens of backbenchers appeared to defy their leader as the Commons voted by 317 votes to 256 for a motion discussing the rights of MPs to approve intervention overseas.
Corbyn had himself tabled the emergency motion in a bid to highlight Theresa May’s own failure to give MPs a vote on last weekend’s RAF airstrikes in Syria.
He then ordered his MPs to vote down the motion - “this House has considered Parliament’s rights in relation to the approval of military action by British Forces” – in a symbolic bid to expose the Tories for failing to consult Parliament properly.
But amid widespread confusion among some Labour members, a fifth of the party’s MPs – 52 out of 259 - didn’t vote. Just 205 MPs, plus two tellers, backed Corbyn.
The SNP and Lib Dems did back Corbyn, but nearly all the Tory MPs and DUP followed their own whip, enough to defeat his plan.
Some of the missing Labour MPs were needed on select committees but many appear to have deliberately abstained.
Some MPs told HuffPost that they had registered a protest at Corbyn’s procedural tactics, while others said they felt the hands of ministers deciding urgent military action should not be tied by Parliament.
John Woodcock said: “We couldn’t understand why we were being told to vote against a motion that Jeremy Corbyn had himself proposed and commended to us earlier in the day.
“Given this confusion and the fact it was a motion simply noting that the House of Commons had discussed the issue, many of us thought it was best to abstain.
“Labour MPs were ordered by the leadership to abstain for these reasons when the SNP tried to force a pointless vote on Alison McGovern’s similar motion on Syria last night so many of us thought it was sensible to be consistent today.”
Former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie also told HuffPost: “It made no sense for the Labour leader to propose a motion only then to vote against it - especially after abstaining himself on the similar motion the day before.
“These should be serious issues and I didn’t feel it appropriate to take part in procedural game-playing.”
One MP said that a Labour MPs WhatsApp group was full of confusion, with some whips telling MPs to back the motion and others telling them to oppose it.
Corbyn had led the debate by declaring May had now effectively junked the convention that Parliament should be consulted ahead of significant military action.
He pointed out that even Tony Blair, with a huge majority, had decided to let MPs have a vote and said it was imperative that a minority Government like May’s followed the same principles.
“I am sorry to say that the Prime Minister’s decision not to recall Parliament and to engage in further military action in Syria last week showed a flagrant disregard for this convention,” he said.
Asked by a Tory MP if he would have voted for the recent RAF strikes against Assad, the Labour leader signalled he would not.
“I made very clear my concerns about the strike, its legitimacy and the legality behind it, so I should have thought it was pretty obvious what my view on it was,” he said.
Corbyn added a jibe at the Vote Leave slogan during the Brexit referendum, saying: “It is for this House to take matters into its own hands and to take back control—as some might put it.”
May hit back that she was not ditching the convention of consulting Parliament but insisted there was no need to legislate for it in a new War Powers Act.
“There are situations—not least major deployments like the Iraq war—when the scale of the military build-up requires the movement of military assets over weeks, and when it is absolutely right and appropriate for Parliament to debate military action in advance, but that does not mean that that is always appropriate.”
May also tried to scotch SNP claims that only MPs favourable to military action had been offered briefings from the National Security Adviser on the Syria situation.
“Briefings have been offered to all Members of the House, not just Privy Counsellors, subsequent to action. Before action, briefing was only offered to Opposition leaders,” she said.
Seizing on some Labour MPs’ vocal support for military action, she ended by saying: “The mood of the House yesterday was unquestionable: we have the support of the House for the measures that we took to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deterring its future use. A clear majority of the House believes we did the right thing.”
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said he backed the idea of a vote, but was scathing about Corbyn.
“We should be in no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is using this procedural device to cloak his ideological hostility to British armed forces involvement in more or less any military action, and to distract from his presumption of support for a morally bankrupt Russian regime,” he said.