U.K. Opposition Sets Out Conditions for Backing on SyriaRobert Hutton and Thomas Penny
U.K. opposition leader Ed Miliband has told Prime Minister David Cameron his Labour Party won’t vote for military action over Syria without United Nations involvement, as a poll showed Britons opposed missile strikes by two to one.
Miliband offered tentative support for possible attacks after meeting Cameron yesterday. His foreign-affairs spokesman, Douglas Alexander, today laid out Labour’s conditions for supporting Cameron in a vote in Parliament tomorrow. Cameron has recalled lawmakers from their summer recess after last week’s alleged chemical-weapons attacks by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad that Syrian opposition groups say killed 1,300 people.
“We want to see the report of the weapons inspectors who are presently on the ground presented to the Security Council of the United Nations prior to action being taken,” Alexander told the BBC. “It is not simply an issue of confirmation that chemical weapons were used, but there is also an issue of the responsibility -- evidence suggesting Assad’s responsibility.”
If Labour opposes military action, Cameron may struggle to win approval from the House of Commons, as some of his own Conservative lawmakers have publicly expressed reluctance to back such a move. It’s 10 years since Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair led Britain into the war in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, a move that cost him popularity and eventually led to his resignation in 2007.
The evidence behind U.K. and U.S. assertions that the Syrian government is responsible for the attacks should be presented to Parliament, Alexander said. Labour also wants Cameron to publish the legal advice he has been given about possibly military action.
A YouGov Plc poll published in today’s Sun newspaper found 50 percent of respondents saying they opposed missile strikes, while 25 percent said they were in favor. YouGov questioned 1,991 people Aug. 26 and yesterday for the poll, for which no margin of error was specified.
“The danger is we get dragged into a civil war in the Middle East,” Diane Abbott, who ran against Miliband for the party leadership in 2010 and is now a Labour health spokeswoman, told the BBC. “The idea that Assad is going to wake up after the bombing and say ‘OK, I’m going to stop the humanitarian abuses,’ I think that’s a little bit naive.”
Conservative lawmakers including John Baron, John Redwood and Sarah Wollaston have also publicly said they have doubts about the effectiveness of military action.
“There is no public appetite for anything that risks dragging our armed forces into another quagmire,” YouGov President Peter Kellner said in an e-mailed statement, highlighting the failure of military interventions to bring peace to Iraq and Afghanistan. “A short, sharp, remote-launched missile attack, and possibly the enforcement of a no-fly zone, represent the outer limits of what might be acceptable, and our latest poll shows that even that isn’t certain.”
The prime minister hasn’t yet given details of the motion that will be put to members of Parliament tomorrow or said whether it will be binding. In the past, Cameron has said that British lawmakers should have the final say on going to war.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said any decision on military action should not be rushed.
“The things which MPs will have to bear in mind in what is going to be a very, very difficult debate is firstly, are we sure about the facts on the ground?” Welby said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “Secondly, is it possible to have a carefully calibrated response including armed force, if you are sure about the facts on the ground, that does not have unforeseeable ramifications across the whole Arab and Muslim world?”