David Cameron's plans for military action in Syria shot down in dramatic Commons vote

Foreign policy in disarray and Prime Minister humiliated as he is forced to rule out British support of US-led military action

Political Editor

The prospect of British involvement in military action in Syria ended dramatically last night when David Cameron suffered a surprise and humiliating Commons defeat on the issue.

Despite concessions by the Prime Minister to opponents of military action, a rebellion by Conservative MPs and strong opposition by Labour saw the Government defeated by 285 votes to 272.

The vote leaves Mr Cameron's foreign policy in disarray and will raise new questions over his leadership. He is unable to deliver British support to American-led strikes on Syria over the Assad regime's alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians near Damascus. The vote will dismay the Obama administration, which is now likely to press ahead without the UK, perhaps as early as this weekend. One US military official said after the vote: “We care about what the UK thinks. We value the [Parliamentary] process but we're going to make the decision we need to make.”

The rejected government motion said the response to the weapons attack “may, if necessary, require military action”. Although  Mr Cameron promised a second vote next week before any British involvement, he failed to win support last night for what Labour described as a vote in principle for military action.

The Prime Minister immediately abandoned his plan for British involvement in Syria.  He told MPs: “I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons. But I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, confirmed there would now be no participation by the UK. He was “disappointed” by the Commons decision and admitted it would “place some strain” on the US-UK relationship. He blamed the Government's defeat partly on the the Iraq War, saying it  had “poisoned the well” of public opinion, which had influenced MPs' votes.

The crushing blow for Mr Cameron is a huge coup for Ed Miliband, who toughened Labour's stance against military action after initially appearing ready to support it. The Opposition's  line emboldened rebel Tory MPs. Many voted against a Labour amendment, calling for “compelling evidence” the Assad regime was responsible for the attack before UK involvement, which was rejected by 332 votes to 220.

But many Tories then refused to the support the Government's motion. Labour estimated that 30 Tories voted against, while others abstained. Amid farcical scenes, Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, demanded a recount on the grounds that some ministers had missed the vote. She was rebuffed by the Speaker John Bercow. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary and a hawk on Syria, shouted “disgrace” at Tory and Liberal Democrat rebels. There was speculation that Tory whips had advised the Prime Minister not to recall MPs from their summer break for yesterday's emergency debate in the hope of winning endorsement for military action.

Earlier Downing Street accused Mr Miliband of giving “succour” to the Assad regime by opposing immediate military action against it.

The Independent has learnt that Mr Miliband toughened Labour's stance after being warned by Rosie Winterton, the Opposition Chief Whip, he would face a huge rebellion among the party's MPs if he supported military action. Some Labour insiders claim there could have been “one or more” resignations from the shadow Cabinet.

Last night Jim Fitzpatrick quit as a Labour transport spokesman after telling the Commons he was “opposed to military intervention in Syria, full stop”. He voted against both the Government's motion and Labour's amendment to it, saying: “My objection is not having an exit strategy, not having an end game.”

Yesterday Britain sent six Typhoon jets to Cyprus to protect its bases against a strike from Syria, while the US and Russia both bolstered their naval forces in the Mediterranean in preparation for possible military action.

The Prime Minister's aides accused Mr Miliband of “flipping and flopping” and “moving the goalposts” only a day after the Labour leader had suggested he might support the Government, only to then demand a second vote in the Commons before any British strike was launched. The aides said Mr Cameron believed the Labour leader was “playing politics” and warned that the divisions displayed in yesterday's debate would give “succour” to the Assad regime.

Labour hit back angrily, accusing Number 10 of risking the political consensus the PM said he wanted to achieve. A Labour spokesman said: “That is frankly insulting. Language like that demeans Downing Street... It should not lower itself to the level of personal abuse.” He added: “It seems to us that it is uncalled for. There will be families up and down this country who are listening to this debate thinking that if there is military action it could be my son involved, it could be my father involved.”

Mr Miliband's tougher line won strong backing at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday, but his aides denied he had been bounced into a U-turn by his own MPs. “It was about doing the right thing, not the numbers,” one said.

However, one Labour source admitted: “There was a big internal wobble after what Ed said on Tuesday. That led to quite a dramatic change of tone and a more aggressive stance.” Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, is said to have played a key role. The discussions also included Tim Livesey, Mr Miliband's chief of staff, and Lord (Stewart) Wood, the shadow Minister Without Portfolio.

Mr Miliband said Labour wanted to see “compelling evidence” of the attack and a stronger commitment to involve the UN. He insisted that he did not rule out supporting military action.

Opening yesterday's debate, Mr Cameron conceded the British public was “war-weary” about getting involved in conflicts in the Middle East but insisted he would not repeat the mistakes of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was not proposing an invasion or taking sides in Syria, insisting: “We must not let the spectre of previous mistakes paralyse us.”

Tory ministers lose the plot

Tory ministers seemed to be losing the plot last night after three were reported to have missed the Commons vote, and one kept referring to the wrong dictator.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Africa Minister Mark Simmonds were both said to have missed the bell which sounded to let MPs know it was time to vote.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for former justice secretary and Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke said he was unable to attend because of “logistical family reasons”.

In a later appearance on BBC Newsnight, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond seemed to repeatedly forget the country in which he wanted to see military intervention.

He twice referred to the need to prevent “Saddam Hussein” from using chemical weapons, in a reference to the former Iraqi despot who was executed in 2006.

Will Gant

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?