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.