This afternoon brings some of the defining hours of David Cameron’s premiership. The British public is against strikes on Syria by a majority of two to one, polling suggests – yet the Prime Minister will ask a reluctant Parliament to back him in attacking Damascus. Many of you are unconvinced about the case for bombing, hardly surprising when warships are in position before the wider world has been shown a shred of evidence that the Assad regime was behind last Wednesday’s chemical slaughter. Mr Cameron must carry Parliament and the public with him; he has not. Likelihood is not proof.
Future deaths will weigh heavy on our consciences if we fail to respond to the use of chemical weapons on civilians now. The Foreign Secretary yesterday articulated fear of “the creeping normalisation of the use of weapons that the world has spent decades trying to control and eradicate”.
But air strikes by the US and Britain will be misinterpreted around the Middle East, twisted by our enemies to inspire hate. Unknowable consequences await.
A huge number of MPs say they are torn and have yet to make up their mind how they will vote tonight. There is no blank cheque for the Prime Minister. Downing Street will be hit by rebel MPs from the Government’s benches. Ed Miliband has whipped the rug from beneath Mr Cameron, demanding not only that he put the planned strikes to the UN Security Council but also that the weapons inspectors be allowed to finish their investigation and report back.
I do not believe that Assad should be allowed to use chemical weapons with impunity. But bombing an Arab country without the figleaf of broad international legitimacy is dangerous. Over to you, Prime Minister.