Sunday 29 November 2015

British PM will not try to persuade MPs on Syria again, reveals George Osborne

Sam Lister

Published 01/09/2013 | 10:30

David Cameron and Barack Obama
David Cameron and Barack Obama

UK Prime Minister David Cameron will not make a renewed attempt to persuade MPs to support military action against Syria even in the face of a wave of fresh chemical weapons attacks or new evidence, the UK Chancellor indicated this morning.

The prospect of Parliament revisiting the issue was raised last night following US President Barack Obama's announcement that he is seeking congressional support for a punishment strike on Bashar Assad's regime.

George Osborne insisted today that "Parliament has spoken" and suggested that even if the facts changed Britain will not deploy military force.

He told BBC 1's Andrew Marr show: "I think Parliament has spoken. I think the Labour party will always play this opportunistically.

"The Conservative MPs, and there were Liberal Democrats, who couldn't support us, they have a deep scepticism about military involvement and I don't think another UN report, or whatever, would make the difference.

"Of course I wanted us to be part of a potential military response. Now that is just not going to be open to us now because the House of Commons has spoken."

Mr Osborne insisted the country would not think less of the Prime Minister following the Commons defeat, which was unprecedent on a matter of military action in modern times.

The Chancellor defended the whipping operation carried out in the run up to the vote amid claims it was rushed and shambolic, claiming a number of "sceptical" MPs had been persuaded to back the government on Thursday.

"What was clear is there is a lot of scepticism out there," he told Andrew Marr. "So it's not about the whipping or the division bell, it's about trying to win an argument in the country, in our parliament and trying to do this in a way, frankly different, from ten years ago with the Iraq war."

Britain's "special relationship" with the US has come under scrutiny after the vote left President Obama looking to France for support.

The US president's decision to echo Mr Cameron last night by seeking a domestic political mandate before launching a strike and his public declaration that Britain was America's "closest ally" was viewed as a sign that relations remain on track.

Asked whether that had provided cover for the government, Mr Osborne said: "I'm not particularly embarrassed and I'm not looking for political cover. What I'm looking is for an outcome that's going to stop the use of chemical weapons and I think what Barack Obama has done is consistent with our set of decisions, which is you have got take the country with us."

He added: "I think it would be very sad if we turned our back on the world and I'm absolutely determined that we don't."

Mr Osborne said the decision to go to parliament for support "shows a confidence" in government to set out its case.

He added: "If you don't win you argument, so be it. I don't think the country's going to think less of this government or less of David Cameron because he has the confidence to make a principled argument to his parliament."

The Chancellor lashed out at Labour leader Ed Miliband over his decision to oppose the government.

"I think Ed Miliband looks a bit less like a Prime Minister even than he did a few weeks ago," he said.

Members of the shadow cabinet would not be drawn on whether they would support military action if the situation in Syria changed.

But shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said if there was evidence that al Qaida elements in Syria had chemical weapons, then David Cameron had "a right" to bring the decision on military action back to Parliament.

Both Mr Murphy and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the Prime Minister's statement after the vote on Thursday seemed to indicate he had completely ruled out British involvement.

Mr Murphy told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "Of course if al Qaida was to get their hands on those chemical weapons, if they were to be really significant developments in Syria and the conditions that we set in our motion on Thursday about it being legal, about the evidence being available, compelling evidence, about a UN process, then of course the Prime Minister has a right to bring that to Parliament. But it would appear at the moment that he has ruled that out and he did rule it out on Thursday evening."

Meanwhile, Mr Alexander told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show: "I was intrigued by the statement the Prime Minister made on Thursday evening because if you were in a scenario, for example, where al Qaida or their affiliates got possession of very large stocks of chemical weapons, that would strike me as a very significant change but the Prime Minister has given his word now to the British people that the UK will not be participating."

Lib Dem president Tim Farron denied reports that Nick Clegg spoke to party MPs like children at a meeting before the Syria vote.

He told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "It was not rancorous and he didn't do that at all.

"I thought he spoke with real passion and compassion. His motivation in all of this was outrage at what had happened to the innocent people of Syria in this appalling chemical attack.

"I think we should be pleased that our leaders have a heart for those people who are in desperate circumstances."

He added: "I have rarely been prouder of Nick Clegg this week because I think it's good for leaders to challenge not just their own parties but the country to try and take stock of serious situations.

"When all was said and done he did that and I disagreed with him on a couple of points and felt in the end that I couldn't support the Government. But I think he did an incredibly good job this week and in a democracy you want bold, challenging leadership and then you want those very same leaders to be able to be big enough to accept the will of the people or the will of Parliament."

Foreign Secretary William Hague he could see no "immediate possibility" of circumstances changing enough to secure support from Parliament.

Mr Hague told Murnaghan on Sky News: "I don't think it's realistic to think that we can go back to parliament every week with the same question having received no for an answer.

"I think anybody looking at this objectively would see that in order for Parliament, in any circumstances, to come to a different conclusion then people would have to be more persuaded by the evidence and there is a great deal of evidence there. But I'm not sure that the extra evidence that the United States presented would have made a difference to those doubting the evidence in the House of Commons.

"The Labour leadership would have to play a less partisan and less opportunistic role and be prepared to take yes for an answer in terms of the motions that we present to the House of Commons.

"We had taken on board all the points that they had made before the debate on Thursday. So all those things would have to happen to get a different result in the House of Commons and I can't see any immediate possibility of that."

Mr Hague insisted relations between the US and the UK remain strong and said Britain will provide diplomatic and political support.

He said: "The United States are clear that the special relationship remains. They have been very good about the result of our vote and understand that we respect democratic procedures in our country and so equally we must respect theirs.

"We are not going to get involved in their congressional debate.

"But, we do believe this threat has to be confronted and if it is not confronted now the confrontation in the end will only be bigger."

Mr Hague insisted there should be no "regrets or recriminations" and said the Government "must dust ourselves down from that defeat".

He added: "We want Parliament to be able to consider things as quickly as possible. This is democracy. Of course, democracy didn't work out and it (has not) produced the result that we had hoped for and we have to respect that."

Asked if he had considered quitting over the defeat, he replied: "No. The Prime Minister's very clear that we have to all get on with this and the way I have just described and that's what we all in the Cabinet are determined to do."

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