28 Aug 2013

Cameron ducks Syria vote

After a couple of hours or so of taking flak for switching their position on Syria, the Labour leadership will be feeling pretty chuffed right now.

It withdrew what looked like its emerging support for David Cameron in the vote tomorrow, and David Cameron has had to fold up his tent and neuter tomorrow’s vote.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at Number 10 Downing Street in London

MPs are now being summoned from distant parts of the globe, interrupting their holidays, to vote for a motherhood and apple pie motion that does not sanction British military action.

Labour says that as recently as 5.15pm this afternoon, David Cameron rejected Ed Miliband’s suggestion that there should be two votes – a preliminary one tomorrow and then a conclusive one once the UN inspectors’ report is published.

Less than two hours later and Mr Cameron was proposing just that. He didn’t think he would get the authority he needed from the Commons tomorrow to act on the world stage.

There was always a painful time pressure to this process.

The word was that President Obama wanted any military action to happen before he left the US on Tuesday next week for Russia and the G20 summit there under President Putin’s chairmanship.

David Cameron knew that British MPs and voters too would want a higher standard of proof than they necessarily always needed for military action pre-Iraq. But the Americans were minded to attack Syria before the end of this week and evidence might not turn up fast enough to fit that schedule.

The end result is that the US could end up launching attacks on its own or (even worse perhaps in Foreign Office eyes) with just the French for partners. To many British diplomats that’s their worst nightmare – failing to deliver for your mighty superpower ally.

That may still not happen. The US might delay its own timetable to wait for Britain. But it might not.

Labour thought there could be an interim UN inspectors’ report as soon as this weekend, possibly even a recalled parliament on Sunday voting on military action.

But there must be a chance that delays now extend, opposition to British involvement builds, and it never happens.

Read more from Channel 4 News on Syria
Alex Thomson on the Syria ‘blitz’: behind the bombs
In the shadow of chemical weapons: an interactive map
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