British MPs warn against holding vote on Syrian air strikes

No extension of military action without coherent international strategy, says committee

Extending British air strikes into Syria is off the political agenda after an influential Commons  cross-party committee warned against  such a move. Photograph: PA

Extending British air strikes into Syria is off the political agenda after an influential Commons cross-party committee warned against such a move. Photograph: PA

 

The prospect of a British House of Commons vote on extending British air strikes into Syria is off the political agenda after an influential, cross-party committee warned against calling such a vote.

Prime minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman insisted yesterday that the government had shelved plans for a vote on Syria, saying Mr Cameron had never intended to call such a vote until he was confident of a Commons majority.

“He has always been clear that he thinks there is a case for doing more to tackle the threat from Isil [Islamic State], and that we would only go back to the house on this issue if there was clear consensus and that remains the case. You can’t put a timescale on the vote,” she said.

Mr Cameron was humiliated in 2013 when MPs rejected his proposal to authorise military action against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a defeat that helped persuade US president Barack Obama to call off a similar vote in Congress. But the prime minister’s hopes of winning cross-party support for air strikes in Syria were dealt a powerful blow yesterday with the report of the Commons foreign affairs committee.

The committee, on which the Conservatives have a majority, said the government should not seek Commons approval before it had addressed a number of problematic issues surrounding an extension of British military operations against Islamic State (IS), into Syria.

“In the face of a humanitarian and security catastrophe there is a powerful sense that something must be done in Syria. We agree that it is a key British national interest to defeat Isil and we consider this to be a necessary goal for the UK,” the report said.

“However, we believe that there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating Isil and of ending the civil war in Syria,” it added.

It said Russia’s military intervention in support of Mr Assad had further complicated the case for Britain getting involved militarily in Syria. The UK is currently involved in air strikes against IS in Iraq but the committee heard from expert witnesses that its participation in Syria might not make much difference to the international effort.

Small percentage

“We were told that air strikes would be unlikely to be effective without reliable allies on the ground to assist with targeting and to move in and take areas that had been attacked, and these would not be easy to find,” it said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who opposes UK air strikes in Syria, said it was time for the government to reconsider its military role in Iraq too. “I’m not sure how successful it has been because most of the action appears to have moved into Syria so I think we have to look again at that decision,” he said.