David Cameron’s authority in Parliament and on the world stage was dealt an unprecedented blow last night as he faced a breathtaking Commons defeat  over plans for missile strikes on Syria.

In an extraordinary assault on the Prime Minister’s authority, 50 coalition MPs joined Labour in voting against a watered-down Government motion supporting the ‘principle’ of military action.

There were shouts of ‘resign’ from the Labour benches as the result – 285 votes to 272 – was announced to a shocked House of Commons.

 
Chastened: Prime Minister David Cameron faced calls to 'resign' in the Commons as MPs voted by 272 votes to 285 to reject his motion backing British intervention in principle

Chastened: British MPs voted by 272 votes to 285 to reject Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion backing British intervention in principle

The last time a Prime Minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782.

A Downing Street source said Mr Cameron had no intention of resigning, adding: ‘His colleagues support him on most things, but on this issue they disagreed.’

Education Secretary Michael Gove was said to have shouted at Tory rebels outside the  chamber: ‘You’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace.’

Chancellor George Osborne today raised concern that the UK’s place in the world would be undermined by the vote.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that big open and trading nation that I’d like us to be or whether we turn our back on that.

‘I understand the deep scepticism that my colleagues in Parliament many members of the public have about British involvement in Syria.

‘I hope this doesn’t become the moment where we turn our back on the world’s problems.’

 
Blast: People inspect the damage at a site hit by what activists say was a car bomb in Raqqa province, Syria

Blast: People inspect the damage at a site hit by what activists say was a car bomb in Raqqa province, Syria

 

 
1782 - Last time this happened
Welby: I fear for Christians
 

THE 39 REBELS IN THE COALITION

Conservatives
David Amess (Southend West)
Richard Bacon (Norfolk South)
Steven Baker (Wycombe)
John Baron (Basildon & Billericay)
Andrew Bingham (High Peak)
Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
Fiona Bruce (Congleton)
Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford)
David Davies (Monmouth)
Philip Davies (Shipley)
David Davis (Haltemprice & Howden)
Nick de Bois (Enfield North)
Richard Drax (Dorset South)
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne & Sheppey)
Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
Adam Holloway (Gravesham)
Phillip Lee (Bracknell)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley)
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage)
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley)
Anne-Marie Morris (Newton Abbot)
Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole)
Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth & Horncastle)
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes)
Charles Walker (Broxbourne)
Chris White (Warwick & Leamington)
DR SARAH WOLLASTON (Totnes)

Lib Dems
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley)
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West)
Andrew George (St Ives)
Mike Hancock (Portsmouth S)
Julian Huppert (Cambridge)
Ian swales (Redcar)
Sarah Teather (Brent Central)
Dan Rogerson  (North Cornwall)
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Mr Cameron, who had made a passionate plea for support over proposals for targeted strikes on Damascus after a chemical weapons attack last week, was forced to issue a humiliating climbdown.

‘It is clear to me the British Parliament does not want to see British military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly,’ he told MPs.

 

His decision to pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US in a planned attack on Syria, and to recall Parliament from its summer recess for an emergency debate, backfired spectacularly.

Mr Cameron had been counting on Labour’s support to ensure he could win a Commons vote authorising strikes, despite the doubts of scores of Tory MPs.

Labour, however, refused to back the Government, prompting the angriest foreign policy row between the main parties since Suez in 1956.

The Tories accused Ed Miliband of giving ‘succour’ to President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘I’m disappointed with Ed Miliband’s behaviour, frankly. Anything that stops this from giving a clear, united view of the British Parliament will give some succour to the regime.’

After the vote, Mr Hammond said: ‘I hope Britain isn’t going to retreat into being the sort of nation that isn’t going to act to uphold international norms.’

Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister who voted ‘reluctantly’ with the Government, accused Mr Cameron of rushing into the vote.

Reza Afshar, head of the Syria team at the Foreign Office, tweeted simply: ‘Disaster.’

Senior US officials said President Obama was prepared to move ahead with a limited military strike despite last night’s vote.

 

Two Tory ministers, International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds, apparently missed the vote after not hearing a division bell. 

An earlier Labour motion, demanding further conditions before Britain could be involved in any military action, was defeated by 332 votes to 220. In other developments:

  • A letter published by Britain’s intelligence chiefs said it was ‘highly likely’ the Syrian regime carried out last week’s attack, but US officials suggested the evidence was ‘not a slam dunk’;
  • The Government insisted military action would be legal on humanitarian grounds even without the backing of the UN Security Council;
  • Russia, a belligerent supporter of Assad’s regime, deployed war ships in the eastern Mediterranean;
  • Military chiefs prepared for the possibility that the Assad regime might retaliate to an attack with a strike on the UK’s sovereign base at Akrotiri on Cyprus;
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned intervening in Syria could lead to an ‘open season’ on Christians in the region;
  • The Syrian regime accused Mr Cameron of ‘communicating through a monologue of blood and fire’.
 
Moment: MPs last night dramatically voted against David Cameron's plea to take military action against Syria

Moment: MPs last night dramatically voted against David Cameron’s plea to take military action against Syria

 

 

 
Recall: Mr Cameron told a packed House of Commons that Britain had to decide how to respond to 'one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century'

Recall: Mr Cameron told a packed House of Commons that Britain had to decide how to respond to ‘one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century’

Last night’s vote is a grave humiliation for Mr Cameron and will also raise doubts about the future of the ‘Special Relationship’ between Britain and the US.

One Whitehall source said Britain was ‘handing back its deputy sheriff’s badge’ to Washington.

The shadow of Tony Blair loomed large over yesterday’s proceedings, with speaker after speaker referring to the mistakes and misinformation of the Iraq War.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that Iraq had ‘truly poisoned the well of public opinion’ on military intervention.

 
Prudent: An RAF Typhoon jet comes in to land at Akrotiri in Cyprus yesterday as a 'prudent and precautionary measure', the Ministry of Defence said

Prudent: An RAF Typhoon jet comes in to land at Akrotiri in Cyprus yesterday as a ‘prudent and precautionary measure’, the Ministry of Defence said

 

 
Target: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (centre left) pictured yesterday during a meeting with a Yemeni delegation in Damascus

Target: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (centre left) pictured yesterday during a meeting with a Yemeni delegation in Damascus

He admitted there was not ‘one smoking piece of intelligence’ but insisted it was ‘beyond doubt’ that Assad’s regime was responsible for a chemical attack that killed at least 350 civilians.

Mr Miliband insisted he was not ruling out backing military strikes at some point, but presented his own ‘sequential roadmap’ before he thought Britain should take such a step.

Asked if Mr Miliband was giving comfort to Assad, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘Yes. The fact is that a lot of the arguments over this could give succour to the regime.’

No  10 also accused Mr Miliband of ‘flipping and flopping’ and having privately indicated his party would back military intervention before moving the goalposts at the last minute.

Labour said the suggestion it was giving succour to Assad was ‘frankly insulting’.

Mr Cameron acknowledged voters were sceptical about getting into ‘another war in the Middle East’ but insisted he was not proposing a long-running campaign to dislodge Assad – rather a strike on ‘command and control’ assets to try to reduce the chances of another chemical weapons attack.

A string of senior Conservatives, however, expressed doubts about the wisdom of intervention and Mr Cameron’s rush to join the US.

Former Tory leadership contender David Davis said: ‘It’s very simple – when you are going to do things which will lead to the death of people, civilians in particular, you should get your facts right first.’

UK fighter planes swoop in to defend Cyprus

Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, said he did not support military intervention in Syria in any shape.

He said: ‘The drums of war were banging very loudly two or three days ago. The people didn’t like it.’

But Dr Liam Fox, former Conservative defence secretary, said: ‘Appeasement has never worked to further the cause of peace. It will not now and it will not in the future.’

Lord Howard, the former Conservative leader, said: ‘We are in danger of allowing the United States and France to act as the conscience of the world while the United Kingdom stands on the sidelines wringing its hands.’

 
To strike or not to strike
 

 

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