Former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt has warned that the parliamentary vote against taking military action in Syria has potentially created a dangerous precedent that could hamstring the UK’s ability to intervene in conflicts overseas.
Mr Burt, who oversaw policy on Syria for three years, said moderates in the Syrian opposition had been “absolutely devastated” by the vote in August and that it had boosted extremists in the ranks of rebels fighting President Bashar Assad.
President Assad and his acolytes would continue their bloody crackdown on the revolt unless they feared they might “end up in a storm drain with a bayonet up their backside”, he added.
But Mr Burt, who lost his post in the autumn reshuffle, said the decision to give parliament a binding vote on military action in Syria could now mean UK forces will rarely get involved in operations overseas.
“There is now a question mark about what parliament actually will authorise military support for,” he told The Guardian.
“There is Gibraltar and the Falklands – I think we can assume those. I am not sure we can assume anything else. Where does that leave us and our partnerships around the world? We have put ourselves in a constitutional mess this way.”
Mr Burt said the Government should take “executive action” in matters of foreign affairs.
“If parliament does not ultimately go for it, then the issue becomes a vote of confidence issue. I don’t think you can handle foreign affairs by having to try to convince 326 people [more than half of MPs] each time you need to take a difficult decision,” he said.
“You do it and if they don’t like it, they can vote you out and they can have a general election.”
The UK “knew exactly what would happen if there was not a strike against Assad over chemical weapons,” he said.
“He goes on. And the only thing that would deflect this man and this regime is if they fear they are going to end up in a storm drain with a bayonet up their backside. If they don’t fear that, they will go on killing as many people as they need to stay in power.”
The West had talked “a good game” about backing the opposition, but parliament had then reneged on the offers of support made by Government.
“I think moderate Syrian opposition was absolutely devastated by this decision. They felt in a sense that their last hope had gone,” Mr Burt said.