British lawmakers on Thursday delivered a stunning rejection of Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid to punish the government of Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons, citing skepticism over the misinformation used to back the Iraq war as a reason for staying out of Syria and raising the prospect that any U.S.-led strike would go ahead without its staunchest military ally.
The move came as a severe blow both to Cameron — a Conservative Party hawk on Syria — and to U.S. hopes of securing a Britain as a cornerstone of a coalition. After an eight-hour debate, Cameron lost a vote that was seen as a symbolic, preliminary motion setting up a final vote in the days ahead. The failure of even the weaker piece of legislation, in a 285 to 272 vote, suggested that Cameron faces overwhelming opposition to the idea of Britain joining any strikes.
The vote is a stunning rejection of the prime minister’s bid to punish the government of Bashar al-Assad.
The prime minister says the loss reflects the British people’s views and the government will “act accordingly.”
“It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action,” Cameron said after losing the vote. “I get that, and the government will act accordingly.”
The rejection marked an extraordinary turn of events in Britain, which only two days ago appeared ready to fast-track signing on to a U.S.-led coalition. But over the past 24 hours, Cameron has encountered a level of domestic political resistance that appeared to catch his government off guard. It suggested the extent of the damage done here by the faulty intelligence and mission creep that steered British troops into Iraq a decade ago.