6 Jun 2013

Tory MPs demand Commons vote on arming Syria rebels

More than 80 Conservative MPs have urged Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a Commons vote before Britain sends any arms to the Syrian rebels.

A joint letter, drafted by North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen, follows the tabling of a Commons early day motion on Wednesday and repeated questions to Mr Cameron on the issue.

Tory MPs have expressed unease about Britain’s escalating role in the continuing war in Syria after Britain secured a relaxation of the arms embargo to allow weapons to be sent.

Mr Bridgen told the Commons there was “considerable concern in this house” and the country about about UK involvement in another Middle Eastern conflict “where there appear to be many sides but no end”.

‘Important issue’

He asked: “Can you confirm such a decision to arm any of these groups be considered during a recess period, Parliament can be quickly recalled so we can debate this very important issue?”

Mr Bridgen said he would not be releasing the names of the 81 Tory MPs who co-signed the letter to Mr Cameron.

Responding, Commons Leader Andrew Lansley said: “You will recall what the prime minister had to say yesterday.

“I think he was absolutely clear that in the same way as, for example, he was careful to ensure the House, on 21 March 2011, had an opportunity to debate Libya on a substantive motion, any decision relating to the arming of the Syrian National Coalition or others in relation to Syria would be the subject of debate and an opportunity for a vote in this house.”

Speaking in the Commons during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said: “I’ve never been someone who has wanted to stand against the House having a say on any of these issues and I have always been someone, early on, (who) made sure parliament is recalled to discuss important issues.

“Let me stress, as I did on Monday, no decision has been taken to arm the rebels so I don’t think this issue arises.”

‘No decision’

The prime minister added that he had supported a vote on previous occasions including over Iraq and Libya but added: “This issue does not arise at present because we have made no decision to arm the rebels.”

Mr Bridgen’s early day motion has so far attracted the support of 26 MPs, from several parties including Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party.

Tory MP Philip Hollobone urged Mr Lansley to create a new recall mechanism during Thursday’s Commons session, to allow 20 per cent of MPs to force a recall if the Government does not instigate one.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has written to foreign secretary Mr Hague to ask for assurances over whether the government will give MPs a vote on arming Syrian rebels.

The UN is rushing to fill a gap in its monitoring force in the Golan Heights after Austria decided to withdraw its troops, which make up more than a third of the 1,000-strong international force observing a decades-old ceasefire between Syria and Israel.

Israel said on Thursday it regretted Austria’s decision to withdraw its peacekeepers, adding that it hoped the move will not lead to further escalation of conflict along the Syrian frontier