British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vital parliamentary vote on Thursday night meant to pave the way for Britain to join a looming military strike on Syria, in a move that appeared to all but rule out British involvement in such action.
In a humiliating and unexpected development, Cameron and his coalition government failed to pass a motion that would have authorised 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 authorise 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.”
In New York, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members met again to discuss an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week as Western powers consider possible military action against the Syrian government, U.N. diplomats said.
The meeting lasted for just under an hour. U.S., British, French, Chinese and Russian diplomats declined to comment to reporters after the meeting. One diplomat said it was not clear why Russia had called for the meeting and nothing new was raised.
“There’s no further P5 (permanent council members) meeting scheduled but that could change,” a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Russian diplomats declined to comment on the meeting apart from the fact that it had ended.
Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States held an inconclusive meeting on Wednesday on a draft Security Council resolution that would authorize “all necessary force” in response to the alleged gas attack.