MPs blocking Syria bombing "good day for Parliament" says West MP
Westcountry Tory rebel Sarah Wollaston insisted the Government defeat over military action in Syria was a "good day for Parliament".
The Totnes MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that humanitarian assistance to Syria should not "come in the form of cruise missiles”.
But former Liberal Democrat leader and ex-Yeovil MP Lord Ashdown said the defeat in the Commons had left the UK a "hugely diminished country".
MPs last night voted 272 to 285 against a Government motion that agreed in principle "military action" may be required following chemical weapons attacks on civilians allegedly carried out by Bashar Assad's regime.
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Dr Wollaston, one of 31 Conservative rebels, said: “I think this was a good day for Parliament because this was Parliament reflecting the view, very widely held across the country, that we should not be drawn into yet another Middle Eastern conflict, that we are not the right people to deliver this message to Assad.
“It’s not about us being a nation of appeasers or apologists, Britain isn’t just turning its back, we are delivering enormous amounts of humanitarian aid but we just do not feel that humanitarian aid in this instance should come in the form of cruise missiles.”
She acknowledged that the decision taken by MPs could have far-reaching consequences for Britain’s role as 'policeman' on the world stage.
“Certainly that is part of the message, but of course the world’s policeman was taking a day off in 1985 when the Iranians were being systemically subject to chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein and that’s the point at which the world should have stepped in and made absolutely clear their abhorrence at these dreadful weapons.
“There are many other dreadful weapons and many, many other casualties in Syria and we need to look at our standards and ensure that we present a consistent message ... calling a coup a coup in Egypt, for example, not ourselves using weapons like weaponised white phosphorus,” she said.
“We need to be consistent in our message to the Middle East because if we don’t we just fuel resentment.”
But Westcountry peer Lord Ashdown, a former special forces soldier, said on Twitter: “In 50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed/ashamed. Britain’s answer to the Syrian horrors? none of our business!”
Also among the Conservative rebels were Richard Drax (South Dorset) and Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot). Nine Lib Dems voted against the Government, including Andrew George (St Ives) and Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall).
The vote followed an eight-hour debate in the Commons.
The Prime Minister said it was clear Parliament "does not want to see British military action" in Syria after the Government was defeated on the issue, adding: "I get that, and the Government will act accordingly."
Dr Wollaston said in the Commons yesterday: "To be wary of war is not to stand idly by. But a realistic appraisal of the risks and learning from past experience. The British people are not standing idly by. They are delivering humanitarian aid. But they do not feel humanitarian aid from the West is best delivered in the form of a cruise missile."
Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, spoke of the "slippery slope" to air strikes by even having a vote as it "softens up Parliament". He added the US and France, another possible ally, would see a vote in favour of the Government motion as an "amber light, even green light" to unleash a limited strike.
The 10pm vote came amid a growing row between the Government and Labour after Mr Miliband was accused of potentially "giving succour" to Assad by forcing a second vote.
Labour, which earlier in the week indicated support for the coalition, officially complained over the "infantile and irresponsible" remarks.
During the debate, Mr Cameron repeatedly attempted to distance the decision from Tony Blair's path to the conflict in Iraq in 2003 – saying he understood why it had "poisoned" the well of public opinion.
And he admitted in the Commons there is not "one smoking piece of intelligence" to pin the blame on the Assad regime.
But he insisted he was convinced by the evidence, published in part yesterday. Mr Cameron told MPs "you have to make a judgement", adding: "The question before us today is how we respond to one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century."
Labour voted against the Government's motion – but it was not ruling out military intervention in Syria.
Moving his alternative amendment to the Government motion, Mr Miliband, who is pushing for more time to examine evidence, said: "I think we need to be clear-eyed about the impact that (intervention) would have."
An attacks would likely involve military personnel stationed in the South West.
The Response Force Task Group – a Royal Naval force of four warships and five support vessels – is already in the region in the Mediterranean, along with almost 1,000 Westcountry-based Royal Marines.
Devonport-based nuclear submarine HMS Tireless is also thought to be in the Mediterranean, whose waters run to the Syrian coastline.
In the debate, Mr George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives, said: "No matter what I may think about the appalling Assad regime – I accept there is very little other plausible explanation for the chemical attack – I still don't believe this justifies military attacks."
Mr George went on that strikes risked making President Assad "even more irrational".
"The situation may escalate into war – may involve other countries stepping in. Nobody today has persuaded me it will quell the situation. There's also the risk of mission creep," he added.
Dr Wollaston warned the vote would "suck us closer to the cliff edge".
And Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, told the Commons that Britain was "damned if you do, and damned if you don't".
He said: "You can either accept chemical weapons and you can destroy your own people like the Assad regime is doing in Syria and the terrible consequences – but if we do doing something you've got to make sure it's not too much to extricate ourselves from another war."
How Westcountry MPs voted
Jeremy Browne, Taunton Deane, Lib Dem
Oliver Colvile, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport , Cons
George Eustice, Camborne and Redruth, Cons
Stephen Gilbert, St Austell and Newquay, Lib Dem
David Heath, Somerton and Frome, Lib Dem
David Laws, Yeovil, Lib Dems
Oliver Letwin, West Dorset, Cons
Sheryll Murray, South East Cornwall, Cons
Sarah Newton, Truro and Falmouth, Cons
Neil Parish, Tiverton and Honiton, Cons
Gary Streeter, South West Devon, Con
Mel Stride, Central Devon, Cons
Hugo Swire, East Devon, Cons
* Richard Drax, South Dorset, Cons
* Andrew George, St Ives, Lib Dem
* Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbot, Cons
* Dan Rogerson, North Cornwall, Lib Dem
Alison Seabeck, Plymouth Moor View, Lab
* Dr Sarah Wollaston, Totnes, Cons
DID NOT VOTE
Ben Bradshaw, Exeter, Lab
Geoffrey Cox, Torridge and West Devon, Cons
Nick Harvey, North Devon, Lib Dem
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Bridgwater, Cons
Adrian Sanders, Torbay, Lib Dem
* denotes rebelled against party