Cameron promises MPs vote on whether to arm Syrian rebels

More than 80 Conservative backbenchers demanded opportunity to block supply of weapons

Deputy Political Editor

MPs have been promised a vote over any move to arm the Syrian opposition forces, with David Cameron facing growing Tory hostility to intervention in the civil war.

They were given the pledge after Downing Street received a demand from more than 80 Conservative backbenchers for an opportunity to block the supply of weapons.

Mr Cameron faces up an uphill struggle to win the endorsement of the House of Commons for any involvement in the war, which has already cost 100,000 lives.

Andrew Lansley, the Commons leader, reassured MPs that any decision to supply British-made arms “would be the subject of debate and an opportunity for a vote in this House”.

Although he did not spell out what form a vote would take, it is likely that ministers would be expected to endorse the policy, while backbenchers from the Coalition parties could be granted a free vote.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and up to half of Tory backbenchers could oppose arming Syrian rebels.

The Independent disclosed that at least five Cabinet ministers have expressed fears over the plans to arm rebel leaders, which follow the lifting of the European Union weapons embargo on Syria.

Mr Lansley told MPs that the Prime Minister had given them the opportunity in 2011 to debate air strikes on Libya – and would take the same course of action if weapons were dispatched to Syria.

He said Mr Cameron was clear that “any decision relating to the arming of the Syrian National Coalition or others in relation to Syria, would be the subject of debate and an opportunity for a vote in this House”.

Downing Street today received a letter from Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, which was signed by 80 fellow MPs, warning Mr Cameron of “very real concern among colleagues and the public about the possibility of British involvement in Syria escalating”.

It asked for “assurances that prior to any decision being taken to supply arms to the Syrian National Coalition or any other groups in Syria, a full debate and vote will be held in Parliament and that in addition to this, if Parliament is in recess it should be recalled to facilitate this important debate”.

Mr Bridgen told the Commons: “There is considerable concern in this House and the country about us being pulled further into another Middle Eastern conflict where there appear to be many sides but no end.”

Britain and France led calls for the EU to lift its Syrian arms embargo – a stance which was opposed by several other member states.

The Government insists it has no immediate plans to supply weapons to the forces battling to topple Bashar al-Assad, but hopes the threat of arming rebel forces will spur the Syrian President to negotiate over ending the two-year-old war.

Unease within the Cabinet over Syria was underlined by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who acknowledged ministers were still undecided over their next step.

“My sense at some point is we need ultimately to decide where we stand on this, one way or the other, we have to make sure we’re not in a halfway house,” he told the BBC.

“We either want to support key rebels – of course, there are risks in that – or we want to say ‘look, we can’t’ and leave them in the clear picture they’re not going to get that support.”

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, also warned it would be “incredibly difficult” to bolster moderate Syrian forces when extremists were “very much setting the pace on both sides of the argument”.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman insisted there was “complete agreement” within his Cabinet on the issue. He said: “The point of lifting the arms embargo has been to give us the flexibility to respond differently if we think that is the right thing to do, but no decision to provide lethal assistance has been taken.”

Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “The Prime Minister has allowed speculation to build about the Government's real intentions in relation to arming the opposition.

“But the Government needs to address the very real concerns being addressed across the House of Commons, and be prepared to set out their case.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power