Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Forget Syria – tell the Spanish ambassador to pack his straw donkey


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The Independent Online

It’s a sign of the momentous nature of last week’s vote against a strike on Syria that MPs today found all sorts of ways – some oblique and some direct – of picking over it. Some even compensated by becoming ultra-bellicose on the lesser issue of Gibraltar.

The DUP’s Iain Paisley cheerily suggested that if the Spanish “continued their hostility” towards the British people of Gibraltar, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, should “tell the Spanish ambassador in London to pack his sombrero, straw donkey and sangria, and go”.  

But it was Syria itself that dominated. Michael Gove, who on foreign policy is on the neo-conservative wing of what these days is a multi-factional Tory party, today explained his shouts of “disgrace” and taunts of appeasement after Thursday’s vote by saying that he had become “heated” – something of an understatement – because “there were Labour MPs cheering as though it were a football match and they had just won”. Today, however, the Opposition were positively sombre.

Echoing widening calls, ranging from Labour’s Jack Straw to the anti-war Tory John Baron, for the new government in Tehran to be treated as part of the solution as well as part of the problem, a statesman-like shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, proposed forming a “contact group” including Iran, Russia and, on the other side, Saudi Arabia, to arrange a peace conference.

Hague, wholly unperturbed by the handful of Ukip-backed calls for his resignation after Thursday’s defeat, was unmoved.

Some MPs were reflecting “a rather cheery view of Iranian diplomacy on those matters”, he told Baron later.

And Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who deserted his party colleagues in the final vote last week, asked why Cameron had said so baldly after losing that it was clear to him that Parliament “does not want to see military action”.

Labour had voted against – and helped to defeat – a proposition for a second vote, said Hague. Actually you felt that Bradshaw would settle, if it was necessary to get military action, for a second vote on whether to have a third one.

By contrast, the Tory Julian Lewis, who opposed a strike, pressed Hague to “confirm once and for all” Cameron’s statement on Thursday. Which Hague sort of did – but nowhere near as unequivocally as Lewis would have liked if the MP’s shake of the head was anything to go by.

Saying “I can confirm what we have all said, including the Prime Minister”, Hague added: “We are not planning to return to the same vote or the same debate again.”

Which means that Hague’s words would probably not come back to haunt him if another vote was taken in what Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on Monday carefully called “very significantly” changed circumstances. For Cameron it might not be so simple.