The Syria War Lobby

Moods_Hassan Edalbi_Syrian Artist17:23 Monday 2nd September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Should MPs be asked to vote again on the idea of military action against Syria? A number of high-profile politicians certainly think so. But a BBC poll suggests the majority of us are against military intervention. Joining us from Westminster with the latest political reporter Matthew Presland.
MATTHEW PRESLAND: Well Chris I mean the Government’s posistion on thie seems fairly clear to me. Downing Street has firmly ruled out a second vote by MPs on British involvement in Syria, but I mean even if more evidence you know against President Assad’s forces comes to light in the coming days and weeks they say. Now a Number 10 spokesman says the Government has absolutely no plans to go back to Parliament for another vote. And just about an hour ago in the Commons the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said MPs had spoken, and that people should respect it. (TAPE)
PHILIP HAMMOND: We cannot keep coming back to Parliament with the same question. (HEAR HEAR) I think I think that the circumstances would have to change very significantly before Parliament would want to look again at this issue. (LIVE)
MATTHEW PRESLAND: I mean it is being argued here in Westminster however that by using this kind of language to MPs, Philip Hammond is leaving open the possibility of a future second vote in Parliament. You know however my sense Chris is that there is no appetite just at the moment within Government  to have a second vote, not least because of David Cameron’s you know fairly humiliating defeat by Labour MPs and Tory rebels. And you know he certainly doesn’t want to risk setting himself up for yet another potentially fall damaging fall so soon. And he you know he may want to wait a bit.
CHRIS MANN: So Matthew can you explain why the Prime Minister is coming under pressure to bring the issue back to Parliament?
MATTHEW PRESLAND: Well you know as you may recall David Cameron was criticised for rushing into military action against Syria, but now some people are saying he’s actually being too hasty to rule it out altogether. And one of those to make that argument is the Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson. And he’s basically saying that if there was new and better evidence as he put it that showed the Assad regime was behind this chemical weapons attack in Damascus you know he could see no reason why the issue should not be brought back before the Commons. You know and it’s all led some Labour MPs to feel some pressure of their own, perhaps even some soul searching. So they’ve been defending their role in defeating the Government’s motion. But the Party’s Chuka Umunna came out and said you know last week’s vote in the Commons doesn’t mean that UK military action is no longer an option. (TAPE)
CHUKA UMUNNA: If in light of changing circumstances, the Prime Minister chooses to come back to Parliament, then as a responsible Opposition we must consider that, and frankly I think that’s what the public expects of us. (LIVE)
MATTHEW PRESLAND: And Chris this is why the story is changing significantly. I think it’s several things. Firstly America has come out and said that they’ve seen evidence the deadly nerve gas sarin was used in the appalling attack in Damascus. This afternoon French Prime Minister Francois Hollande says an intelligence dossier their officials have put together suggests that the Syrian Government has stockpiled more than one thousand tons of chemical agents including sarin and mustard gas. And just within the past few minutes literally the Head of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was personally convinced that Assad’s forces were behind the attack last month, and he’s called for a firm international response.
CHRIS MANN: And yet Matthew here in Britain public opinion seems to be firmly against military action doesn’t it?
MATTHEW PRESLAND: Indeed Chris. And that may well be part of the reason Downing Street you know is so reluctant to try to revisit this issue. But as you quite rightly say, according to a BBC poll today, carried out by ICM, 71% of people in England Scotland and Wales think MPs were right to prevent military action. And most think the decision will not damage Britain’s relationship with the US. Now in the Parliamentary debate last week that we all covered so extensively lots of MPs felt the Government had failed to jump through all those hoops it should have done before getting involved in military strikes. But of course some may still be open to the idea if the evidence clearly points to President Assad and his regime. Now in the days ahead, as more intelligence drips out, I think you can expect more people to question whether Parliament has made the right decision.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Matthew Presland at Westminster.