Steve Brine MP

for Winchester & Chandler's Ford

30 AUG 2013

Syria and the use of chemical weapons debate

Winchester & Chandler's Ford MP Steve Brine was among those recalled to Parliament on Thursday August 29 2013 for an emergency debate titled 'Syria and the use of chemical weapons'.

It was in response to an attack using banned chemical weapons in the country on August 21 2013 which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries among Syrian civilians.

The use of chemical weapons is outlawed via the worldwide prohibition on their use under international law set out in 1925.

The coalition Government set out its motion which condemned the use of chemical weapons and argued "a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community which may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria's chemical weapons".

Crucially, the motion stated the United Nations must have the opportunity to consider the report of the UN weapons inspectors and "every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place".

An amendment to the coalition's motion was tabled by the Labour Opposition.

After seven and-a-half hours of debate two votes were held; one on the Labour amendement (which was heavily defeated) and another on the main motion from the coalition Government in the name of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. It was also defeated - by just 13 votes - which meant the Government lost the vote and neither motion was carried.

Steve Brine says; "This was one of the toughest decisions I have faced since becoming an MP.  In the short time between learning Parliament was to be recalled and the vote I heard from hundreds of constituents and was able to speak personally to both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.

"In the end, and contrary to how it appeared when the recall was first made, the votes held last night were NOT the crunch votes that would have authorised British military strikes on Syria.  In response to concern from the Opposition and from Government backbenchers including myself, I was pleased the coalition Government stepped back and agreed to wait for the report of the UN weapons inspectors and crucially, to hold a second vote before any British involvement in military action could take place.

"I was extremely disappointed not to get the chance to speak in the debate which is why I am publishing my draft speech in full on this website.  Constituents can then read my feelings on the subject and see the questions I wanted Ministers to answer before I would vote to support military action in any second vote.

"Last night I voted against Ed Miliband's motion which was comfortably defeated.  I subsequently supported the coalition motion because I felt it contained the the right mix of condemning the chemical weapons attack, working through the United Nations and crucially, giving the clear commitment NO British military action could follow WITHOUT a second positive vote in this House of Commons.  If last night had been, as I believe was originally planned, the vote to say yes or no to British military action I would have been forced to vote against the Government and I have to say my feeling in this respect only became stronger as I listened to the debate yesterday.

"All that said, what has taken place in Syria is harrowing and I am clear it is war crime for which there must be consequences if we are to uphold international law and say we don't accept the use of chemical weapons.  I think the British people agree with that but it is clear, and my constituents generally said the same as everyone else over the past few days, they do not support military means to acheive that.  I hope British involvement will not now disappear but see redoubled efforts to lead a regional peace conference and pursue the perportrators of last week's chemical attacks via international law."

Steve added this on the Prime Minister and the political dimension to last night's vote; "People often don't like to hear this but I prefer to tell it straight and the truth is there were politics of the worst kind on display last night in the House of Commons.  The Labour Party amendment did not rule out the use of force by British forces and was almost identical to that of the Government.  The PM and DPM moved a great deal as a result of Ed Miliband's requests on Wednesday and amended their motion in search of consensus but Mr Miliband was seemingly intent on defeating David Cameron in the Commons for political advantage and that's what he did.  Reports from the BBC's Nick Robinson that Mr Miliband walked into the Labour whips office after the vote to cheers of celebration, as President Assad was bombing a school in Syria for the record, rather says it all.

"People will say the Prime Minister is weakened by this.  My view, for what it's worth, is that a stronger House of Commons which the Prime Minister of the day listens to is no bad thing and everyone should just relax a little instead of setting up these big tests of authority all the time.  Constituents tell me all the time they want more free votes and less party whips in politics - and I totally agree - but that goes hand in hand with us being a little more grown-up about the legislature exerting itself over the Executive from time to time."


More information ...

Watch Steve Brine discussing Syria on ITV Meridian's Last Word programme

You can watch the Syria debate in full via Parliament's website

And download Steve Brine's draft speech prepared for delivery in the debate

You can read the Government motion

You can read the Opposition motion (opens directly as a PDF)

Read the summary legal advice from the UK Attorney General published ahead of the debate

Download the Joint Intelligence Committee letter to the Prime Minister of August 29 2013

Back to all posts


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Contact Steve Brine in Westminster

Call your MP in his Commons office on 0207 219 7189 or email steve.brine.mp@parliament.uk

Early Day Motions (EDMs)

Steve Brine does not sign EDMs - click here to read why.

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