U.K. Lawmakers Vote Against Syria Strike

Aug 29, 2013
Originally published on August 30, 2013 4:04 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block. And we begin with the sharp and sudden backlash in Britain against military action in Syria. Tonight, the House of Commons issued a defiant rebuke to Prime Minister David Cameron. He took the case for military action to Parliament, arguing that the Syrian government should be held accountable for the deaths of hundreds of people in last week's apparent chemical weapons attack. But Cameron met fierce opposition from lawmakers. And after a vigorous debate, they voted against him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The ayes to the right, 272. The nos to the left, 285.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BLOCK: NPR's Philip Reeves joins us from London. And, Philip, was this a surprise? What happened in Parliament today?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: More than a surprise, it was a bombshell and a very serious humiliation for David Cameron. It's worth rolling the tape back a little bit on this. Let's not forget that Cameron called Parliament back from the summer vacation for an emergency debate. Initially, he was widely expected to win a vote in that debate, which would authorize the use of military action, possible military action. And then it became clear that actually he hadn't got the support he hoped for, and that among those who were expressing grave reservations were a significant number of members of his own party.

And so he came up with a watered down motion to put to the House of Commons in which it would allow for a second vote next week and, before any decision was made, for the whole thing to go through the U.N. And despite watering it all down, he lost by a majority of 13 - 272 votes to 285. Tonight, the Labor Party voted against the motion and so did some of his own party, the Conservative Party. And he has suffered a very, very serious defeat. And a defeat which I think perhaps means - well, I think pretty clearly means that Britain is out of this possible military action against Syria over the use of chemical weapons.

BLOCK: And as you say, Philip, a stunning turn for this to happen and a serious humiliation for Prime Minister Cameron, who said after the vote: It's clear to me the British Parliament reflecting the will of the British people does not want to see military action. I get that. And the government will act accordingly. What does that mean? How does that play...

REEVES: Well, it sounds, on the face of it, remembering this has just happened, but that does sound pretty clear, doesn't it, that he will respect the will of the House of Commons, and that although he very passionately made a case for acting against Syria, that Parliament has overruled him. It's clear - it's been clear from public opinion polls that the public was very, very against, in large part, getting entangled in a Middle Eastern conflict, another one in which the outcome would be far from clear.

They've had their fingers burned in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don't want that to happen again. And so he, I think, will now have to accept that Parliament has spoken and that he must, you know, he must abide by that. For a prime minister, albeit one who heads a coalition government, whose position has never been very strong, this is a very significant defeat.

BLOCK: And he has been a staunch Obama ally. What does this mean for the future of David Cameron?

REEVES: Well, that's hard to say. There will, of course, be a heated debate about his future now. And it's also, you know, a moment in the relationship, the transatlantic relationship. No ally has been more dependable than the U.K. in recent years when it comes to embarking on these foreign military exercise or, you know, events. So, you know, for the first time, the British have been able - to sort of - unable to line up and deliver. And that, I think, is significant too.

He's in trouble. The truth is he is in trouble. And in the coming days, there will be a very heated debate here, I'm sure, about his future. I think what this really raises is serious questions about his judgment. He cannot have expected this to happen. I think he was confident that he would have the support of the House of Commons, and he got a very nasty surprise at the end of his summer vacation.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Philip Reeves in London. Philip, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.