30 Aug 2013

After last night’s Syria vote, has Britain become the new Sweden?

Tory MP and former minister Crispin Blunt on Radio 4 just now said MPs who defeated the PM yesterday were trying to enshrine a new paradigm of British foreign policy. We should draw in our horns, stop trying to maintain “imperial pretensions,” he said.

Paddy Ashdown told me that depressed him mightily, and Britain was sounding like it was turning into “Denmark or, more accurately, maybe Sweden” as Denmark still had “some international ambitions”.


George Osborne said there will be a “national soul-searching” over whether we should “turn our back on all of the world’s problems”.

Beyond that very serious debate there’s the question of what went wrong for the government last night. At 7.30pm, Tory MP John Baron, the longstanding critic of involvement in Syria, told me he had nothing like enough MPs to endanger the government majority.

A senior member of the government this morning told me this was a much more atomised revolt than previous ones. MPs were coming back from their holidays straight into the vote, with constituents’ emails ringing in their ears.

Read more: Cameron loses Syria vote, no military intervention by UK

The government source says that that what changed the dynamics was when Ed Miliband decided to go ahead with his own amendment, when the PM thought he’d caved in and absorbed all of Ed Miliband’s points in his own radically altered government motion.

That, the source said, was when the government realised it had a good chance of going “below water”.

I’m very sorry I didn’t see that coming and apologise to anyone watching my live report at the end of last night’s programme for calling the vote wrongly and saying the government would win.

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