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Will Parliament get a vote on Syria? PM says ‘basically yes’

16 June 2013

David Cameron is far more optimistic than Nick Clegg about arming the Syrian rebels: that much has been clear for a while. He explained why he’s optimistic on Sky’s Murnaghan programme this morning, arguing that if the West doesn’t work with the ‘good’ rebels, then the ‘bad’ rebels will have more of an opportunity to flourish. He said:

‘I want to help the Syrian opposition to succeed and my argument is this: yes there are elements of the Syrian opposition that are deeply unsavoury, that are very dangerous, very extremist and I want nothing to do with them. I’d like them driven out of Syria. They’re linked to al Qaeda. But there are elements of the Syrian opposition who want to see a free, democratic pluralistic Syria that respects the rights of minorities including Christians and we should be working with them.

‘We are working with them and my point is this: that if we don’t work with those elements of the Syrian opposition then we can’t be surprised if the only elements of the Syrian opposition that are actually making any progress in Syria are the ones that we don’t approve of.’

This is an interesting argument as it makes sense technically, but the next question is how on earth do you distinguish between good and bad rebels on the ground? And how do you prevent your arms passing from good rebel to bad rebel? If the UK wants to help the good rebels flourish over and above the bad guys, does that mean they will also fight the bad rebels in some instances?

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But it may well be his slightly awkward language around giving parliament a consent for giving armed help to rebels that runs with MPs. The Prime Minister said ‘I would never want to stand in the way of Parliament having a say’, adding after being pressed on whether there will be vote, ‘basically yes we’ve said that’ and that ‘I think Parliament should have a say about these things’. Anyone nervous about Parliament not being given a proper say might not have been fully reassured by those comments: they suggest that some detail will later emerge on the precise nature of the vote that might cause a rumpus.

Here is the transcript of that section of the interview:

DM:     But because of that if it does come to arming the rebels and President Obama says, we the Americans want to do it, we the British will go along with them.  Would there be a vote?  Is there a guarantee of a vote, a debate and a vote in Parliament about that?

DC:      We’ve been very clear.  I’ve been very clear.  I would never want to stand in the way of Parliament having a say and so as William Hague the Foreign Secretary said, you know one way or another of course there would be the opportunity for Parliament to have a say.  But we’re not there yet, we haven’t made that decision.

DM:     Well the Americans are very close.

DC:      Well that’s a decision for the Americans to take.  As I say I think where we can actually give the greatest assistance to the official proper Syrian opposition, is advice, is training and is technical support.  That is where I actually think the British government working with allies like the Emirates and the Jordanians that is where we can have the greatest influence play the greatest role.

DM:     But just to be very clear on that issue Prime Minister.  If it does come to giving armed help to the rebels, to the opposition forces in Syria, Parliament would get a say and ultimately a vote on that?

DC:      Basically yes we’ve said that.

DM:     That is copper bottomed and they would be in a position, then Parliament would be in a position to prevent it happening?

DC:      As I said, we haven’t made a decision so the whole issue doesn’t really arise.   But I supported having a vote on the Iraq war.  As Prime Minister I made sure there was a vote on the action we took in Libya, I think Parliament should have a say about these things.  I can’t really go further than that in expressing our views.

That last question, about whether Parliament could prevent such action, is the key, and the Prime Minister does not offer a copper-bottomed guarantee that a vote in Parliament would be binding. He is perhaps acting on the intelligence from the whips reported in today’s Sunday Times: a vote in Parliament looks unlikely to go his way.

The next Spectator Debate on 24 June will be debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Green, Douglas Murray and more. Click here to book tickets.

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Show comments
  • pinkgunnergirl

    If the Tory party does not put an end to this madness asap, they deserve everything they get at the next election. I agree with others on here Cameron is either incredibly thick (and that Eton education has been an expensive failure) or the man has lost his mind and needs to be sectioned. After all that’s happened after 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, 7/7 etc etc, Cameron is acting as though he knows nothing of Islamic extremism and has learned nothing this past decade.

    Surely out of the hundreds of Tory MP’S in Parliament there must be at least 46 that share the feelings of the majority of the British people, ergo have no confidence in Cameron. Tory MP’s need to get writing to Graham Brady, Cameron is is walking them off a very steep cliff.

  • Stephen Benson

    Ahem, “have a say” does not equal “get a vote”… and “basically” means anything he wants, and the questioner blew it anyway, with the word “ultimately”. Which may well have been the intention.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Well basically, yes, Dave’s head will be mounted on a spike in about 22.5 months time (or less).

  • Augustus

    “I want to help the Syrian opposition to succeed”. As far as America is concerned Obama has no intention of intervening in a wide offensive. He’s considering imposing a no-fly zone, possibly in a 40-kilometer range so that Assad will not be able to kill refugees fleeing the war torn country with his jets, and possibly arming the rebels with relatively unsophisticated weapons. But it’s not something that could dramatically change the situation or bring it to an end. Russia and Iran won’t accept the end of their agent Assad’s regime, while the West feels a similar commitment toward the rebels, even the Islamist extremist variety. Now there’s a new ‘moderate’ Iranian president, will he help lower the flames on the Syrian front as well? And while America is sending light arms, Russia is sending S-300 and MiGs, Iran is sending 4,000 elite troops, Chechen Islamists fighting Assad have anti-aircraft missiles, Israel, and the U.S. may be planning a WMD strike, and the Islamist-dominated rebel forces are being backed financially and materially by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It’s already a gloomy picture, why add to it? with so many local, regional, and international actors flooding Syria, and with all this increase of arms into the country, it’s got to be only a matter of time until a trigger event sets off quite a conflagration.

  • anyfool

    Supplying arms or troops on the ground, why are we doing the bidding of the Qatari and Saudi Arabian royal family.
    These two disgusting regimes have their own arms and troops and if they want British arms let them buy them.
    We have now got the Prime Minister and the BBC singing from the same song sheet, something very fishy when a lefty public television service appears to want the Tory government to go to war in their interests.

    • Abhay

      This is indeed a sad spectacle – western leaders actually helping Wahabi theocrats!!

      There is a report in WSJ that discusses how the Wahabi king Abdullah has been trying to convince Obama to intervene and has succeeded.

      There is another one in the Independent talking of Iran responding with a promise of 4000 troopers to help Assad.

  • Abhay

    What are the lessons of Egypt and Libya?
    How will they distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys among the rebels? Who are the good guys?
    I cannot see any details in any media outlet.

  • MirthaTidville

    I wonder how high on the U Turn list a `basically yes` ranks?

    • HookesLaw

      ‘I think Parliament should have a say in these things’
      Your inability to quote properly exposes your bias.
      It shows you to be a fool

      • James Strong

        You are wrong.
        ‘I think Parliament should have a say in these things’ is not the same as saying ‘I will make sure Parliament has a say in these things.’
        Cameron’s choice of words allows him wiggle room; it allows him to claim, very possibly during the Parliamentary recess, that it wasn’t possible to give Parliament a say at the time.
        If you don’t understand that politicians are happy to practise non-accidental obfuscation, and a number of other rhetorical tricks, in order to deceive the electorate, then you need look no further than your own mirror to see who is the fool in this discussion.
        It is somewhat regrettable that it has been necessary to put that insult in, but you brought it on yourself.

        • HookesLaw

          Your are plain silly
          Cameron said their would be a vote like it had over Libya

          • James Strong

            OK. Rather than exchange insults let’s get our predictions out in the open, put a note in the diary and come and check in 3 months.
            I would offer a bet but suspect that would be outside the rules of this site.
            I say that Cameron will not give Parliament an effective vote on arming Syrian rebels. By ‘effective’ I mean a vote that has the power to stop arms being provided, and a vote that takes place before the event.
            Of course, if he decides not to send arms to the rebels after all then my prediction is void.
            So, there it is. I challenge you to make your prediction of what Cameron will do. It should be easy for you since you seem to believe him.

      • MirthaTidville

        takes one to know one Hooky

        • HookesLaw


      • pinkgunnergirl

        A ‘say’ is different to a ‘VOTE’!!

        • HookesLaw

          You are plain silly

  • Justathought

    Supplying arms to the opposition is not the same as going to war (boots on the ground etc) and as such the vote should only be necessary on the latter.

    Clearly it is legal and just to supply means of defence to a civilian population under siege form the current regime. My concern is that it may be too little too late and that heavy arms should have been sent already.

    • HookesLaw

      Possibly right
      The nut jobs are happy to see Russia and others have power and influence in the region but for to West to simply give in and do nothing

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        What exactly is the prize? Power and influence? To what end? Give examples of all the influence and power we get from previous interventions? And how we are soooo much better off than countries which mind their own business and avoid overseas entanglements.

        • Wessex Man

          this is Hooky you are replying to, who was probably a Labour Blairite lite and is now a Cameron cutie.

          • HookesLaw

            l have been a solid Conservative Voter all my long life
            Your absurd talk of ‘cutie’ is typically pathetic

  • Colonel Mustard

    “…and we should be working with them.” then

    “We are working with them”

    Bonkers. This man is a disaster for Britain. He is a fool if he believes blood and treasure (which he hasn’t got anyway) should be expended in foreign civil wars on the basis of whether he “approves” or “disapproves” of the various factions involved.

    • Abhay

      The merger of centre-right and centre-left is complete!

  • DavidL

    “Something Must Be Done”. Therefore I am doing something. Disastrous, Blairism in action, aka the Liberal Imperialist’s New Clothes.

    • Alexsandr

      This is the fault with politics just now. There is a problem, they feel the need to act. They should be prepared to say ‘this is f*ck all to do with the British Government, therefore we will no nothing’

    • Stephen Benson

      The something must be done brigade are just useful idiots (in which class fall a significant proportion of the Occupy types and so-called Liberal media). This is pure policy and long in the planning.

    • pinkgunnergirl

      The problem is British politicians are impotent in Britain because essentially the EU has the final say on everything, they turn their attentions abroad. It has disastrous consequences.

  • David B

    This appears to fall under the concept of “liberal intervention.” To me that is the concept were we interven in a conflict based on our own morral position.

    It failed spectacularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why will it work in Syria.

    Ulitimateky this was a Blair concept we should consign to history and keep our intervention to political help only using military intervention where we have a clear objective and exit strategy.

    • telemachus

      More than that
      We should work with Russia and China to ensure defeat of Al Qaeda and the rebels and then again with Russia to force change on Assad
      Sod Obama
      Listen to Boris (DT)

  • Austin Barry

    Is it possible for a concerned member of the public to have Cameron sectioned under the Mental Health Act, 1983?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ann Widdecombe once described him as “thick-headed and pig-headed” which absolutely nails him. He is a fool to spend money on this “intervention” but the ultimate cost will be more than cash. He is effectively waging war against a foreign power without declaring war. A madman in a fool’s pulpit. Each day we have to put up with this idiot Brown is looking less and less bonkers.

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        For the most part i agree Colonel but please do not even suggest that Brown is anything less than a fully fledged madman. Cameron could not possibly inflict the same damage on this country that Brown and his coterie of disgusting charlatans managed and would happily do so again.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …Dave is signing off on all of it though, as his budgets indicate. He’s at least as bad, then. Or worse.

        • telemachus

          Look Nick you are swimming against the tide of current political thought, even the Parish Makhnovists
          In note Stephen Hester now Freed from corporate and coalition restraint this weekend praised Gordon for his role in saving the world’s banks
          Sandwiched between 2warmongers who did more damage to the UK than Edward Heath

      • Stephen Benson

        It’s not his money, and it gets him in thick with the US oligarchy & shock capitalists, much like Blair before him. The price of preferment is a little bad press and maybe losing an election he was going to lose anyway. But really, why would he care? He can look forward to pocketing tons of dosh and getting called a statesman every day.

    • HookesLaw

      You are the loony

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