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Cornish MPs Help Block Military Action In Syria

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5:30pm 30th August 2013
(Updated 5:30pm 30th August 2013)

Britain will not take part in military action against Syria - after two Cornish MPs voted against it.

David Cameron's been forced into an humiliating climbdown after becoming the first PM to be defeated on a war and peace vote in hundreds of years.

He lost a motion on using force if necessary by thirteen votes.

They included North Cornwall's Dan Rogerson and St Ives Andrew George.

He warned the Commons: "This motion still softens up, in my view, parliament and crosses a threshold and puts a firm foot on the slippery slope to military intervention in Syria by creating a climate and the mood music.

"Instead of bomb them with bombs - bomb them with diplomacy, humanitarian aid, shelter, support, humanitarian corridors, international negotiations with Iran and other neighbouring countries in order to address this issue rather than the military strikes that are being proposed."

The government motion, calling for a strong humanitarian response which may have included military strikes, was rejected by 272 votes to 285 late on Thursday night.

Thirty Tory rebels and nine Liberal Democrats joined with Labour to inflict a humiliating defeat on the PM.

Speaking after the historic vote, Mr Cameron said it was clear Parliament "does not want to see British military action" in Syria.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC's Newsnight programme that Mr Cameron was "disappointed" by the vote.

But he said it was clear "the mood of Parliament is that Britain should not be involved in military action and Britain will not be involved in military action".

He said: "We are now clear that we are not now going to be part of any military action - that probably means we will not be part of any planning or discussion.

"It is certainly going to put a strain on the special relationship. The Americans do understand the parliamentary process that we have to go through.

"They have always understood that in order to be involved in military action we would have to secure the consent of Parliament."

St Austell and Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert has said Britain has been “diminished” by the decision and is warning it will embolden those who use chemical weapons against civilians.

Responding to the vote, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said: "The US will continue to consult with the UK Government - one of our closest allies and friends.

"As we've said, President Obama's decision making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the US.

"He believes that there are core interests at stake for the US and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said UK military action is now "off the agenda" and said MPs had reacted against Mr Cameron's "cavalier and reckless" leadership.

He said the PM had tried to "bypass the United Nations" and there would have been nothing worse for the world than Britain pursuing "ill-thought through action" which lacked international support.

Education Secretary Michael Gove shouted "disgrace, you're a disgrace" at Conservative and Liberal Democrat rebels after the defeat, an MP told Sky News.

The Scottish National Party's Westminster leader Angus Robertson said he watched on as Mr Gove had to be "persuaded to calm down" following the outburst.

Conservative rebel MP Adam Holloway told Sky News: "I feel sorry for David Cameron personally because I know the guy is very sincere on this.

"To me what matters here is not so much the arithmetic of the vote but that it is much less likely now that we won't be intervening in a horrible civil war that is fast becoming a regional conflict. Outrage isn't a strategy."

General Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, described the vote as a "victory for common sense" and said the "drumbeat for war" had dwindled among the British public in recent days.

In the Commons, Mr Miliband called on the PM to confirm he would not use the Royal prerogative to order the UK to be part of military action before another vote.

Mr Cameron replied: "I can give that assurance. Let me say the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons."

There were claims that a number of ministers had not taken part in the vote because they were involved in meetings and failed to hear the division bell.

Sky's Adam Boulton said: "It's a major embarrassment (for Mr Cameron). His authority and judgement are going to be called severely into question."

The PM had already been forced to water down his stance - accepting Labour demands that direct British involvement would require a second vote following an investigation by UN weapons inspectors.

A number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs - who have spoken out regularly against military intervention in Syria - either supported Labour and voted against the Government or did not cast a vote.

It followed rejection for a Labour amendment to the motion which called for military action to be taken only once the UN Security Council had voted in light of a report from weapons inspectors on the ground in Syria.

Mr Cameron had earlier said the "abhorrent" chemical weapons attack in Damascus last week had caused "sickening human suffering" and could not be ignored.

But he stressed his plans should not be compared to the allied invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

He said: "This is not like Iraq, what we are seeing in Syria is fundamentally different. We are not invading a country. We are not searching for chemical or biological weapons."

He warned "decades of painstaking work" would be undone if there was no international action.

"The global consensus against the use of chemical weapons will be fatally unravelled, a 100-year taboo would be breached," he warned.

The PM admitted there was no "one smoking piece of intelligence" that made it 100% certain the Assad regime was behind the atrocity.

UN weapons inspectors are due to finish their work on Friday and will report directly to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon within 24 hours.

But their conclusions will not apportion blame - they will only set out the evidence on whether a chemical attack happened or not.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad issued a fresh warning on Thursday that the country would "defend itself in the face of any aggression".

Permanent members of the UN Security Council - the UK, America, France, Russia and China - met for an hour to discuss the situation.

The UK has tabled a draft resolution seeking approval for military action.

But Moscow, a key ally of Assad, is opposed to any military intervention and with China has vetoed all previous attempts to secure resolutions critical of the regime.

Reports suggested Russia is sending warships to the Mediterranean.

Six British RAF Typhoon jets were earlier sent to Cyprus as tensions mount, in what the Ministry of Defence called a "prudent and precautionary measure".

5:30pm 30th August 2013

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