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Cameron says he ‘understands’ public doubts about Middle East conflictsPM’s authority in Parliament and on world stage dealt unprecedented blowChancellor says UK cannot turn its back on the world’s problemsPaddy Ashdown warns Britain is a ‘hugely diminished country’Labour’s Ed Miliband accuses government of ‘a rush to war’10 ministers and aides missed crunch vote lost by just 13
David Cameron today repeated his call for a ‘robust response’ to the Syria crisis as he sought to recover from the humiliating Commons defeat last night.
The Prime Minister has been left battered and bruised after MPs refused to support his plan for military intervention against the use of chemical weapons.
But Chancellor George Osborne took to the airwaves to warn Britain must now undertake ‘national soul-searching’ about its place in the world.
In an extraordinary assault on Mr Cameron’s authority, 39 coalition MPs joined Labour in voting against a watered-down Government motion supporting the ‘principle’ of military action.
There were shouts of ‘resign’ from the Labour benches as the result – 285 votes to 272 – was announced to a shocked House of Commons.
But Mr Cameron expressed ‘regret’ at his failure to persuade more of his MPs to back him, as calls grew for him to sack his chief whip Sir George Young.
The PM said: ‘I think it’s important we have a robust response to the use of chemical weapons and there are a series of things we will continue to do.
‘We will continue to take a case to the United Nations, we will continue to work in all the organisations we are members of – whether the EU, or Nato, or the G8 or the G20 – to condemn what’s happened in Syria,’ he told Sky News.
‘It’s important we uphold the international taboo on the use of chemical weapons.
‘But one thing that was proposed, the potential – only after another vote – involvement of the British military in any action, that won’t be happening.
‘That won’t be happening because the British Parliament, reflecting the great scepticism of the British people about any involvement in the Middle East, and I understand that, that part of it won’t be going ahead.’
The result triggered warnings about the US-UK special relationship amid claims that Britain has been left a ‘hugely diminished country’.
It came as the Foreign Office issued new warnings against all but essential travel to Lebanon as a result of ‘a heightened risk of anti-Western sentiment in certain countries linked to the possibility of military action in Syria’.
The last time a Prime Minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782.
Mr Cameron, who had made a passionate plea for support over proposals for targeted strikes on Damascus after a chemical weapons attack last week, was forced to issue a humiliating climbdown.
His decision to pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US in a planned attack on Syria, and to recall Parliament from its summer recess for an emergency debate, backfired spectacularly.
Chancellor Mr Osborne tried to play down the significance of the result, insisting Tory and Lib Dem rebels who defeated the government had ‘sincerely held views’.
But he today raised concern that the UK’s place in the world would be undermined by the vote.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that big open and trading nation that I’d like us to be or whether we turn our back on that.
‘I understand the deep scepticism that my colleagues in Parliament many members of the public have about British involvement in Syria.
‘I hope this doesn’t become the moment where we turn our back on the world’s problems.’
Mr Cameron had been counting on Labour’s support to ensure he could win a Commons vote authorising strikes, despite the doubts of scores of Tory MPs.
Labour, however, refused to back the Government, prompting the angriest foreign policy row between the main parties since Suez in 1956.
Labour leader Ed Miliband today claimed the House of Commons spoke ‘for the people of Britain’ last night.
Speaking outside his London home he added: ‘People are deeply concerned about the chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but they want us to learn the lessons of Iraq.
‘They don’t want a rush to war. They want things done in the right way, working with the international community.’
A Downing Street source said Mr Cameron had no intention of resigning, adding: ‘His colleagues support him on most things, but on this issue they disagreed.’
Education Secretary Michael Gove was said to have shouted at Tory rebels outside the chamber: ‘You’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace.’
The Tories accused Ed Miliband of giving ‘succour’ to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘I’m disappointed with Ed Miliband’s behaviour, frankly. Anything that stops this from giving a clear, united view of the British Parliament will give some succour to the regime.’
After the vote, Mr Hammond said: ‘I hope Britain isn’t going to retreat into being the sort of nation that isn’t going to act to uphold international norms.’
Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister who voted ‘reluctantly’ with the Government, accused Mr Cameron of rushing into the vote.
Reza Afshar, head of the Syria team at the Foreign Office, tweeted simply: ‘Disaster.’
Lord Ashdown, who appeared in front of Lib Dem MPs with leader Nick Clegg yesterday in an attempt to persuade rebels to back the government, wrote on Twitter: ‘In 50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed/ashamed. Britain’s answer to the Syrian horrors? none of our business!’
Senior US officials said President Obama was prepared to move ahead with a limited military strike despite last night’s vote.
Two Tory ministers, International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds, apparently missed the vote after not hearing a division bell.
An earlier Labour motion, demanding further conditions before Britain could be involved in any military action, was defeated by 332 votes to 220. In other developments:
A letter published by Britain’s intelligence chiefs said it was ‘highly likely’ the Syrian regime carried out last week’s attack, but US officials suggested the evidence was ‘not a slam dunk’;The Government insisted military action would be legal on humanitarian grounds even without the backing of the UN Security Council;Russia, a belligerent supporter of Assad’s regime, deployed war ships in the eastern Mediterranean;Military chiefs prepared for the possibility that the Assad regime might retaliate to an attack with a strike on the UK’s sovereign base at Akrotiri on Cyprus;The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned intervening in Syria could lead to an ‘open season’ on Christians in the region;The Syrian regime accused Mr Cameron of ‘communicating through a monologue of blood and fire’.
Last night’s vote is a grave humiliation for Mr Cameron and will also raise doubts about the future of the ‘Special Relationship’ between Britain and the US.
One Whitehall source said Britain was ‘handing back its deputy sheriff’s badge’ to Washington.
The shadow of Tony Blair loomed large over yesterday’s proceedings, with speaker after speaker referring to the mistakes and misinformation of the Iraq War.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that Iraq had ‘truly poisoned the well of public opinion’ on military intervention.
He admitted there was not ‘one smoking piece of intelligence’ but insisted it was ‘beyond doubt’ that Assad’s regime was responsible for a chemical attack that killed at least 350 civilians.
Mr Miliband insisted he was not ruling out backing military strikes at some point, but presented his own ‘sequential roadmap’ before he thought Britain should take such a step.
Asked if Mr Miliband was giving comfort to Assad, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘Yes. The fact is that a lot of the arguments over this could give succour to the regime.’
No 10 also accused Mr Miliband of ‘flipping and flopping’ and having privately indicated his party would back military intervention before moving the goalposts at the last minute.
Labour said the suggestion it was giving succour to Assad was ‘frankly insulting’.
Mr Cameron acknowledged voters were sceptical about getting into ‘another war in the Middle East’ but insisted he was not proposing a long-running campaign to dislodge Assad – rather a strike on ‘command and control’ assets to try to reduce the chances of another chemical weapons attack.
A string of senior Conservatives, however, expressed doubts about the wisdom of intervention and Mr Cameron’s rush to join the US.
Former Tory leadership contender David Davis said: ‘It’s very simple – when you are going to do things which will lead to the death of people, civilians in particular, you should get your facts right first.’
Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, said he did not support military intervention in Syria in any shape.
He said: ‘The drums of war were banging very loudly two or three days ago. The people didn’t like it.’
But Dr Liam Fox, former Conservative defence secretary, said: ‘Appeasement has never worked to further the cause of peace. It will not now and it will not in the future.’
Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, said: ‘We are in danger of allowing the United States and France to act as the conscience of the world while the United Kingdom stands on the sidelines wringing its hands.’
THE 39 REBELS IN THE COALITION
David Amess (Southend West)
Richard Bacon (Norfolk South)
Steven Baker (Wycombe)
John Baron (Basildon & Billericay)
Andrew Bingham (High Peak)
Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
Fiona Bruce (Congleton)
Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford)
David Davies (Monmouth)
Philip Davies (Shipley)
David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden)
Nick de Bois (Enfield North)
Richard Drax (Dorset South)
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey)
Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
Adam Holloway (Gravesham)
Phillip Lee (Bracknell)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley)
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley)
Anne-Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)
Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole)
Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth & Horncastle)
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes)
Charles Walker (Broxbourne)
Chris White (Warwick & Leamington)
DR SARAH WOLLASTON (Totnes)
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley)
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West)
Andrew George (St Ives)
Mike Hancock (Portsmouth S)
Julian Huppert (Cambridge)
Ian swales (Redcar)
Sarah Teather (Brent Central)
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall)
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)
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