MP WRITES: PM put the decision before the evidence

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As I mentioned in my column last week, Parliament was recalled last week specifically to debate and vote on possible military action in Syria.

That was unusual and astounding enough. What was truly historic was the fact that the Government was defeated on a motion relating to the possible use of British military forces.

This is unprecedented in modern time.

Some of the media are suggesting that the last time this happened was in the 1780s when Lord North lost control of the American colonies.

But the historian in me seems to recall that the coalition government led by Lord Aberdeen resigned when the government lost a motion relating to the Crimean War in the 1850s.

Whatever the historic precedents, it was a hugely significant matter.

The decision to send British troops to a conflict is undoubtedly the gravest part of being an MP and should never be done lightly.

Combined with the appalling pictures of children suffering or dead after the suspected chemicals weapon attack, this matter had to be considered with great care.

I sat in the House of Commons for several hours to listen to the arguments being put forward.

I have to say that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, did not make a convincing case.

The recall of Parliament was designed to ensure that the House of Commons could be seen to back up any British involvement that might – and probably would have – occurred over the weekend.

However, the questions I and all other MPs had to ask ourselves were: would military intervention help or hinder the situation? What is the evidence being put forward that compellingly points to President Assad’s regime being responsible? What is the military plan being proposed and how likely is it to be successful? Have means of a diplomatic solution involving the international community been exhausted?

I’m afraid that the Prime Minister couldn’t satisfactorily answer these questions.

The military timetable was too quick and really didn’t appear thought through. I am certainly no military expert, but senior military personnel were saying that any military plan requires a beginning, middle and an end.

There needs to be a clear endgame for military involvement to be successful.

That is not clear in the Syrian issue at all.

As I mentioned in the column last week, it remained unclear what the Prime Minister was hoping to achieve: regime change was ruled out, so that would mean a weekend or two of cruise missile attacks over Damascus.

How would that prevent a Syrian attack from occurring again?

Was there an issue that such an attack might actually put at risk the stability of any chemicals weapons?

Would such an attack bring other players into the conflict, meaning that it could never be a specific and time-limited attack? Why couldn’t we wait for the UN weapons inspectors to finalise their work? The Prime Minister didn’t answer any of these questions.

In coming to a decision, I am genuinely grateful to constituents who contacted me about the issue. With one or two exceptions, all correspondence was very thoughtful and well informed. I hope those constituents who contacted me know that they very much influenced my decision.

The issue of Syria is not going away. These are fast moving events and the issue will, in all likelihood, come to Parliament again. But, for the recall on Thursday, the Prime Minister was putting the decision before the evidence. In all walks of life, that seems to be bad judgment.

When it comes to involving British military troops and equipment, the decision should never be taken lightly.