Cameron denies scrapping vote on Syria airstrikes after warning from MPs

© Suzanne Plunkett
Prime Minister David Cameron has reportedly scrapped plans to call a House of Commons vote on approving airstrikes against Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria after failing to win over enough Labour MPs to counterbalance rebellious Tories.

Whitehall sources told The Guardian and The Times that Downing Street had unofficially decided not to extend Royal Air Force (RAF) bombing campaigns from Iraq to Syria over fears Cameron would be humiliated by a second defeat on the issue. 

MPs previously voted down launching airstrikes against Syria, specifically targeting forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, in 2013.

Cameron had insisted he would only call a vote when he had achieved a clear, cross-party consensus.

However, the estimated number of Labour MPs expected to vote in favor of airstrikes – between 20 and 30 – would not counteract the number of Tories planning to rebel.

One Downing Street source denied the claims, saying Cameron will still call a vote when a consensus is reached.

“The prime minister’s position hasn’t changed,” the source said.

“He’s consistently said that we would only go back to the House [of Commons] on this issue if there was clear consensus and that remains the case.” 

“Meanwhile, the government continues to work to bring the conflict to an end in Syria and we are working closely with our allies to inject greater momentum into efforts to find a political solution, which we’ve always said will be the way to bring this war to an end and give Syria hope for the future.”

In a further blow to Cameron’s campaign to extend British bombing to Syria, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee released a report saying they are “not yet persuaded” by the case for Syrian airstrikes.

The report expresses concerns that Royal Air Force airstrikes would only have a “marginal effect” and could prove a “distraction” from a diplomatic solution.

MPs agreed that the humanitarian catastrophe means there is a “powerful sense that something must be done.”

But they added that military action should not be used unless there is a “coherent international strategy.”

“We believe that there should be no extension of British military action into Syria unless there is a coherent international strategy that has a realistic chance of defeating ISIL and of ending the civil war in Syria.

“In the absence of such a strategy, taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent,” they added.

However, one former Labour minister threatened to quit the party after suggestions Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership team would consult the Stop the War coalition over a government proposal to begin military action.

Tom Harris MP, a former transport minister, posted on Facebook it would be “goodbye” from him if the anti-war group was consulted.

But Stop the War coalition welcomed the news.

A release said: "Stop the War welcomes reports that the government has dropped its immediate plans to push for a vote to bomb Syria.

"Government efforts to convince a significant number of Labour MPs to vote for war and against Labour policy agreed at its conference appear to have failed. Meanwhile, the Commons foreign affairs select committee has expressed strong doubts about the plans.  

"Anti-war opinion in Britain has once again made its mark. The Stop the War Coalition will stay mobilized against attempts to take us into more disastrous foreign wars," they added.

The British government has already authorized drone strikes against ISIS targets in Syria without the backing of parliament. In September, it was revealed that two British nationals fighting for extremist organizations had been killed by RAF drones.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit London this week to discuss international relations, including the situation in Syria.
The US is already carrying out airstrikes in the country.

“While in London, [Kerry] will meet with British Foreign Secretary [Philip] Hammond to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues, including Syria,” a spokesperson for Kerry said.