29 Aug 2013

Why a ‘no war’ Syria vote could cost UK its deputy sheriff badge

The moment David Cameron and Ed Miliband had finished their opening speeches for the debate on Syria, emphasising the need for “consensus” (David Cameron), and  their briefers were out the back slagging each other off.

David Cameron’s team accused Ed Miliband of “flip-flopping” and being” completely unable to make his mind up. Ed Miliband’s folk retorted that was lowering a serious debate to the level of insults and personal abuse.

There is still a chance the House of Commons comes back next week to debate a motion authorising military attacks on Syria, but No. 10 and the whips’ office will be watching the speeches today like hawks to see if they have the support on their own benches to win and whether Labour looks like a party that could support military action any time very soon.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron is seen addressing the House of Commons in this still image taken from video in London

Ed Miliband’s speech was, in effect, a call for more time. His team said the Labour leader believed that President Obama was rushing things. Every time Ed Miliband talked about “the days ahead”, he would then sound like he was correcting himself and the next time he spoke refer to “the period ahead”.

It is not impossible that he could be asked to vote for action in days, not impossible he could try to lead his party in that direction. But that didn’t sound likely and he didn’t sound like a man preparing his people for a difficult vote for miiltary attacks any time very soon.

Former defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth told me on the basis of listening to voices around Westminster today he thought it was “a strong possibility that parliament will not support military intervention in Syria at any point”. Many in Whitehall have come to a similar conclusion.

The big question could be whether the White House has come to a judgement on whether it’s worth waiting for the UK or not. One senior Whitehall figure talked about how the UK had “handed back its deputy sheriff badge” to the United States and would pay a heavy price in esteem and cooperation in the future with the US.

Another Whitehall source talked about how we may not be privy to the US plans of attack with decent notice if we look like not being a participant. We could be frozen out of the usual open lines of communication and down to a couple of hours’ courtesy notice before cruise missile attacks on Syria.

Follow @GaryGibbonBlog on Twitter

Tweets by @garygibbonblog