A majority of the British public are against sending arms to the opposition forces who oppose the Assad regime in Syria, according to a poll for The Independent.
In a setback for David Cameron, 52 per cent of people say they would oppose the Government providing arms to the Syrian rebels, while 35 per cent would support the move and 13 per cent are undecided.
According to ComRes, women (54 per cent) are more likely to be against supplying arms than men (51 per cent). Liberal Democrat supporters (60 per cent) are more likely to oppose the idea than Labour voters (52 per cent) and Conservatives (50 per cent). But people intending to vote for the UK Independence Party favour supplying arms by a narrow margin of 45 to 43 per cent.
The findings will strengthen the hand of politicians who are reluctant to see Britain send weapons in case it fans the flames of Syria’s two-year civil war. The UK pressed successfully for the European Union’s arms embargo to be lifted, and the Obama administration has pledged that the US will supply the rebels. But Mr Cameron insists no decision has been taken by his Government to send weapons. With Labour, the Liberal Democrats and at least 80 Conservative MPs opposed to the idea, it looks doubtful that he could win the support of the House of Commons.
Despite that, British ministers are making the case for intervention. Yesterday Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office Minister, argued that helping the rebels would be in the British national interest. Interviewed in Parliament’s The House magazine, he said: “We have a British interest in the fact that people from all over the world are being drawn into Syria. This includes people from the United Kingdom. They train and they experience conflict on an extremist basis. It cannot be in our interest that this goes on for long because these people return home. And radicalisation is an issue we take very seriously, as indeed does the community to which these individuals are likely to return and we all share worries about this. The conflict ending sooner rather than later is important to us. So all these things are in Britain’s interest. You cannot put a wall around this and say somehow ‘let people get on with it, it doesn’t affect us’; it does, and the outcome affects us as well.”
Mr Burt confirmed that MPs would get to vote on the issue and suggested that Tory sceptics could be won around. He said: “Circumstances are changing all the time on the ground. What I would hope to do is just to make colleagues aware of what’s happening on a day-to-day basis which guides us in the decisions we have to take with our allies and our friends. That’s not inconsequential either. What the United Kingdom does matters to those that we work with and they look to see what we are doing and how we live up to positions that we set out.”