Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid to join the US in a possible military strike on Syria was shattered Aug 29 when Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband withdrew his previously stated support for the initiative. The vote was still close at 285 to 272.
The defeat on the floor of Parliament leaves Mr. Cameron’s foreign policy floundering and is certain to destabilize his leadership, already showing signs of strain due to the lackluster recovery of the British economy during his tenure.
It is speculated that the House of Commons vote will dismay the Obama administration and bruise US-UK relations; however that remains to be seen given that Pres. Obama himself is fudging statements on whether or not the US will actually take any action.
Cameron of course had to immediately abandon any planning and deployments for British involvement and cease joint efforts between British and US military chiefs. Several British Typhoon fighter aircraft and other military elements had already begun to deploy RAF Akrotiri, a British airbase on the island of Cyprus, less than 100 miles from Syria.
British Defense Minister Philip Hammond expressed disappointment with the House of Commons vote, and also opined it would strain US-UK relations; citing the Iraq War experience as having “poisoned the well”.
The crushing blow for Cameron began when rebellious MP's within his own Tory Party voted down a Labour amendment calling for compelling evidence the Assad regime was responsible which was a reasonable measure and understood to be desired in any mandate for a military strike.
Following this blow, many Tories then refused to support the Cameron’s motion which still could then have passed with Labour support which Labour Leader Miliband had indicated would be on the floor for the vote.
However, at 5:15PM in a ‘bad tempered’ phone conversation’, Mr. Miliband informed Prime Minister Cameron that he would not steer his party to vote for the Syria mandate. Rumors ran abound of warnings from Opposition Whip Rosie Winterton of a Labour rebellion and one or more shadow ministers resigning from the ‘front bench’.
It is apparent however, that an effort to lobby Miliband against a Syria strike was led earlier in the day by shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, supported by Miliband’s Chief of Staff Tim Livesey and Lord Stewart Wood.
Aides to Prime Minister Cameron have accused Mr. Miliband of “moving goal posts”, “flipping and flopping” and “giving succor” to the Assad regime, after which it only got worse. A source within No. 10 Downing Street has said that: “No 10 and Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***”. The latter being a traditional ‘painfully British’ insult apparently.
In a piece written by former Labour employee Dan Hodges, he largely corroborates the Cameron government story that Miliband was originally in full support of the Syria mandate. It was not until the unpleasant phone call with the Prime Minister that Mr. Miliband suddenly demanded that a UN Security Council vote on the weapons inspectors conclusions be a condition of his support.
It is now apparent that if there is a military strike on Syria, Britain will be sitting it out. Pres. Obama has the option to take the US in ‘solo’ without either British or UN backing. He also has the advantage of not needing a direct mandate from the US Congress as the War Powers Act expired in the 1990’s and was never voted back into force. Pres. Obama however has not made a decision and has indicated a possible ‘escape hatch’ in saying the final call will be made according to US national interests.