Wokingham Times article, 4 September

Parliament had a good week last week. We stopped the UK going to war in Syria.

It all began before the Parliamentary recess. I joined 80 other Conservative colleagues and sent a letter to the Prime Minister saying that if they wished to change their Syrian policy at any time they needed to recall Parliament, hold a debate and a vote.  We explained to Ministers that we did not think arming the rebels would be a good idea, though Ministers favoured that approach. The rebel forces encompass a wide range of movements and people and we could not be sure who might win the ensuing struggle for power and whether that would be an improvement. We also argued strongly against UK  military intervention. The government  promised us that we would have a debate and a vote.

Last week the government kept that promise. By the time Parliament was recalled, Ministers had shifted their stance. They now agreed with us that we should not arm the rebels. They agreed the UK should not intervene to try to shift the  military balance. They did however, want to intervene to retaliate for the use of chemical weapons.  Many of us were no happier about this idea than the idea of general intervention. Indeed, we could not see how you could confine  your military intervention to the issue of chemical weapons. The cruise missile hitting a Syrian target would not plant a poster explaining it had been unleashed just because of chemical weapons.  The government  did not  worry too much about convincing us as it was confident it had the support of the Labour party and so did not need our votes.

When Mr Miliband late on Wednesday afternoon announced he was no longer planning to back the government, they faced the reality that they would lose a vote to authorise the use of force. The government redrafted its motion, and promised us all that they would make no decision on military activity until after the UN weapons inspectors had reported. They also said that after the report they would come to a conclusion on military activity and then put it to the proper vote in the Commons.

I spoke in the debate against military involvement. During the course of a long Thursday in Parliament it became clear a very large number of Conservative MPs would vote against the subsequent authorisation of force. By the time of the vote on the government’s motion it was clear the government would not bring another motion to authorise military activity as it knew it would lose such a vote. As it turned out they also lost the bland motion they did put to the House on Thursday, as more than 70 Conservative MPs declined to vote for it.

I strongly welcome and support the government’s new policy on Syria. The UK will not arm the rebels, and will not intervene with military force. It will instead renew efforts to find a diplomatic and political way forward.

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One Comment

  1. Dan H.
    Posted September 10, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, even suggesting that arming the Syrian rebels was a very silly thing to do, simply because there isn’t much we have which we’d be remotely happy about supplying the rebels with. A few mothballed SLRs if there are any left, or some mark-one SA-80 rifles would be about it, and maybe a thunderflash or two. We don’t have spares for most of the ex-Soviet kit they have, and we do not have any old kit that is far enough behind state of the art to be given to a third-world potential enemy.

    Then there’s the fact that the Syrian rebel forces rather resemble a scene from “Life of Brian”; cohesive they are not. The rebels are a huge conglomeration of groups who mostly don’t like Assad’s regime, but what is not said is that they don’t like each other all that much either. Depose Assad, and they’ll just start fighting each other instead. This isn’t a case of two sides where we can back one and get shut of the other one; there are dozens of different sides and most of ’em won’t admit defeat.

    Really, the best thing we can do is stay well out of the area, and make loud suggestions that this mess is the responsibility of the Arab League to sort out and is nothing whatsoever to do with us. This course of action has several benefits, starting with the fact that we aren’t involved, moving on to forcing the Arab League to step up and show what it is capable of (probably not much, but at least we’ll know for later), and finishing with the fact that this is NOT our mess or our responsibility. It’ll finish up as another UN-policed stalemate, of course, but by then it will not devolve to us to police it.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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