30 Aug 2013

Syria timeline: how Britain opted out of military action

With David Cameron suffering a humiliating defeat in the Commons after the vote against military intervention in Syria, Channel 4 News looks back at an extraordinary week in politics.

David Cameron (R)

21 August

Unverified footage obtained and distributed by the Syrian opposition appears to show the after-effects of an alleged chemical strike on rebel-held areas near Damascus.

25 August

The Syrian government agrees to allow UN inspectors to visit the site of the suspected chemical attack.

26 August

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says Britain could “not allow the use of chemical weapons in the 21st century to go unchallenged”.

27 August

Mr Cameron announces parliament is being recalled to discuss the UK’s response to Syria.

28 August

MPs started meeting in private to discuss a commons vote on any intervention.

Labour leader Ed Miliband signals that he wants a “UN moment” before giving his support to any military action.

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott says she will be “in a very difficult position” if Labour backs missile strikes on Syria.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander says Labour wants the UN to have considered a report from inspectors before a vote.

29 August

Six British Typhoon jets are sent to Akrotiri in Cyprus. Meanwhile, the government publishes a summary of its legal advice on the case for military strikes.

Mr Cameron is forced to backtrack on offering MPs a vote on Syria strikes after Mr Miliband changes his mind to say that UN backing is essential.

Labour says it will put forward its own amendment and will not support the government.

In the Commons, Mr Cameron argues that if the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime goes “unpunished”, then “there will be nothing to stop Assad and other dictators using chemical weapons again and again”.

However, the Labour leader dismisses the government’s motion, saying it is loaded in favour of military action prior to reports from the United Nations.

The vote, which follows eight hours of parliamentary debate, effectively rules out British involvement in any US-led strikes against President Assad’s regime. The motion is defeated 285 to 272, a majority of 13 votes.

MPs then reject the government’s motion in support of military action in Syria – even if it is supported by evidence from United Nations weapons inspectors that chemical weapons have been used against civilians.

Following the vote, Mr Miliband says: “Military intervention is now off the agenda for Britain. There would have been nothing worse than intervention without full international support.”

Liberal Democrat Sir Menzies Campbell says it is an “unprecedented” defeat for Mr Cameron, adding: “This has never happened to a prime minister and government before… on this kind of issue.”

30 August

Mr Cameron says the UK is still “deeply engaged in the world”, but questions are raised over the international impact of his defeat in the Commons over Syria.

In a statement from the White House, US officials say: “The US will continue to consult the UK, a friend and ally.

“President Obama will do what is in the US national interest and in the interests of the Syrian people.”