The British Parliament vote against military strikes in Syria is a tough blow to PM David Cameron’s domestic political fortunes.
Since taking office in 2010, David Cameron has on numerous occasions been undercut not just from opposition parties, but also from rebel elements within both his own Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, the junior member of the U.K.’s governing coalition.
The government lost a vote – by a tally of 285 to 272 – that would have supported in principle military intervention in Syria, where Western governments have said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime carried out a deadly chemical-weapons attack on civilians last week. Members of all major parties – including David Cameron’s Tories – opposed the measure.
David Cameron said it is clear that the British Parliament, reflecting the view of the British people, doesn’t want to see the U.K. get involved in military action and “the government will act accordingly”.
The outcome marks a significant moment in British politics – it is highly unusual for a prime minister to be defeated on foreign policy and raises questions about what the U.K.’s role will be the world stage going forward.
It is also a rare setback for U.S.-U.K. relations that will spur questions about the so-called “special relationship” between the two nations. In recent decades, the U.K. has rarely if ever parted ways with the U.S. on such a significant strategic issue.
While the government doesn’t require parliamentary approval to take military action, it would now be politically difficult to do so. A further parliamentary vote had been due to take place early next week on whether the U.K. should be directly involved in that action. A spokesman for the prime minister confirmed that the U.K. now won’t take part in the Syrian action.
The outcome of the U.K. vote could make it more difficult for President Barack Obama and other Western allies – already weary from years of difficult military intervention in the Middle East – to convince their own publics of the need for intervention in Syria.