In Preliminary Vote, British Parliament Rejects Military Action Against Syria


After a day-long debate, the British Parliament has voted against authorizing military action against Syria:

LONDON—British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a preliminary vote on Syria, an early sign of the pushback Western governments may face as they prepare to launch an attack.

Thursday evening’s vote was nonbinding, but in practice the rejection of military strikes means Mr. Cameron’s hands are tied. In a terse statement to Parliament, Mr. Cameron said it was clear to him that the British people did not want to see military action.

Facing vocal opposition from politicians and the public, Mr. Cameron had told parliament earlier that military action was justified on humanitarian grounds and the need to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria. He said the case for action wasn’t about taking sides in the Syrian conflict or about changing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The prime minister said no decision to act had been made and that the U.K. wouldn’t become involved in military action until a further parliamentary vote, due next week, after inspectors from the United Nations report their findings on the use of chemical weapons last week. Western governments have said the Assad regime carried out the attack.

As noted this is only a preliminary vote, but it’s still a powerful signal from the legislative body of our most important ally. If they’re willing to wait for evidence and allow the people’s representatives to debate, then we ought to be doing the same thing.

Update: David Cameron’s reaction to the defeat in Parliament is, I think significant:

In a humiliating and unexpected development, Cameron and his coalition government failed to pass a motion that would have authorized military action against Syria in principle by 285 to 272 votes.

Cameron said afterwards he would not override the will of parliament and approve military action, saying it was clear that lawmakers did not want to see a military strike on the Syrian government to punish it for an illegal chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus last week.

When asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband whether he would promise not to circumvent parliament and authorize military action, he said:

“I can give that assurance. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons.

“It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action – I get that and the government will act accordingly.”

Does this mean Cameron is saying that the Brits are out of this particular “Coalition Of The Willing?” It sure sounds like it.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Donald Sensing says:

    Just saw a news report on TV newscast in which an opposition member of Parliament was saying, on camera, that this whole proposed bombing action came about because the US president drew red lines that were crossed and now he wants to bomb Syria instead of “being humiliated.”

    The odds of Parliament now deciding to support PM Cameron’s plans are pretty much nil.

  2. For the PM to lose a vote, even a non-binding one, is pretty big.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I think this is a pinprick that starts the air leaking out of this balloon. Interesting.

  4. ernieyeball says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: So did he think he had the votes or was he tilting at windmills?

  5. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m hoping.

  6. Rob in CT says:

    Great news!

  7. stonetools says:

    Looks to me that the military intervention option is receding for now.
    I now expect that Assad will get off with the equivalent of a “strongly worded letter”. Unfortunately , or fortunately, he is likely to ignore that and escalate his chemical weapons attacks-which means the issue isn’t going away.