POLITICS
12/04/2018 12:14 BST | Updated 12/04/2018 13:01 BST

David Davis Hints At U-Turn On Military Action In Syria After Opposing Strikes In 2013

He was one of 30 Tories to vote against action in 2013

PA Wire/PA Images

Brexit secretary David Davis has become the latest MP to perform an apparent U-turn on military intervention in Syria, now suggesting he may support action. 

Davis was one of 30 Tory MPs to help defeat David Cameron’s plan for action against Bashar Al-Assad in 2013, following a chemical weapons strike against Syrian rebels.

The Tory dissenters joined with 224 Labour MPs to defeat the Government, which thwarted US President Barack Obama’s attempt to build a coalition of countries to carry out a bombing campaign against Assad.

HuffPost UK understands a number of Labour MPs who voted against action five years ago would now also back military action against the Syrian regime, after the latest chemical weapons attack in Douma, a rebel-held enclave outside Damascus. 

Of the 30 Tories who conspired to defeat Cameron in 2013, 23 are still MPs and four of them are now in the Government: Davis; Sports Minister Tracey Crouch; Brexit Minister Steve Baker; and Justice Minister Philip Lee.

Speaking at a Wall Street Journal Conference in London ahead of an emergency War Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Davis explained his change of view: “There were two reasons in 2013.

“We had not provided the evidence and the intelligence that we knew who it was, and secondly there was not a proper plan thought through properly. Those two things I’m assured we’re going to answer today.”

Another Tory to now back military action is Sarah Wollaston, who tweeted on Wednesday: “I did not support military action in the past but chemical weapons are now being used with impunity, including here in UK. It is time to act to stop the use of these horrific weapons.

“The history of military action in the region means that @theresa_may is right to be cautious but that history also demonstrates that inaction has consequences too.”

 

The vote in 2013 is the single vote that has troubled me most in my 13 years as an MP Labour MP Pat McFadden

Theresa May will host an emergency meeting at 3.30pm on Thursday, where the decision could be taken for the UK join military action without seeking approval from MPs.

The Lib Dems and SNP have urged May to make sure Parliament has a say, but some Tory MPs, including Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair Tom Tugendhat, believe the Prime Minister should act quickly.

Would Theresa May win a Parliamentary Vote?

The most recent vote on UK military action came in December 2015, when MPs were asked to back extending the bombing of Isis into Syria. Of the seven Tories who voted against action that day, six are still MPs. One of those, David Davis, is now in Government and seems likely to support military action.

Of the seven who abstained on the vote, six are still MPs.

If those Tories voted the same way on this vote as attacking ISIS in Syria in 2015, Theresa May would have a majority of two, even if no other party supported her. However, with many Labour MPs minded to support military action, May should secure a clear majority for an attack on Assad.

HuffPost UK spoke to a number of Labour MPs who voted against action in 2013 who would now support military strikes. Former Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden said: “The vote in 2013 is the single vote that has troubled me most in my 13 years as an MP.

“When Parliament took that decision I think many people that night didn’t expect that to be the end of the story.”

McFadden said many MPs believed Cameron would come back with a more detailed plan on action within the next few weeks, and were surprised when he dropped the matter completely.

“The red line on the use of chemical weapons has been crossed time and time again by the Assad regime, encouraged by the serious lack of action in 2013,” said McFadden.

On whether he would support action now to deter the further use of such weapons, McFadden said: “I don’t have a problem in principle with trying to restate the red line on the use of chemical weapons.”

Another Labour MP who voted against action in 2013 was Chris Leslie. He said: “I have my regrets about that. I think that was probably in hindsight the wrong thing to do.”

He too is leaning towards supporting military action now without parliamentary approval, but said the Prime Minister should consult MPs “if there are long term consequences and serious and significant British deployments” in the region.

One 2013 anti-action Labour MP, who did not want to be named, said they were already receiving lots of emails from local party members urging them not to back military strikes.

They said: “I’ll listen to the concerns put but I would be seriously inclined to support action.”