Labour lodges complaint against PM’s top spin doctor after he accuses Miliband of ‘giving succour to Assad’ for flip-flopping over Syria
- PM backs down from immediate strikes so MPs vote on principle of action
- Six RAF Typhoon jets deployed to Cyprus in ‘contingency planning’
- Syrian ally Russia sends two warships to the region in show of strength
- Downing Street releases legal advice saying British strike ‘justifiable’
- Syrian government and opposition issue appeals to MPs ahead of vote
- Deputy PM Nick Clegg ‘wrestling’ with decision to support military action
Labour tonight lodged a complaint against David Cameron’s top spin doctor after he accused Ed Miliband of potentially ‘giving succour’ to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Craig Oliver’s comments – which regarded the decision to force the Government into a second vote before military action is taken against Syria – were condemned as ‘infantile and irresponsible’.
A letter has been sent to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and the party has called for Mr Oliver, the Government’s director of communications, to apologise and withdraw the remark.
Under pressure: Mr Cameron faced repeated questions and challenges from MPs on all sides while Labour leader Ed Miliband (right) insisted he did not rule out supporting military intervention in Syria
Prudent: An RAF Typhoon jet comes in to land at Akrotiri in Cyprus today as a ‘prudent and precautionary measure’, the Ministry of Defence said
Tensions between Labour and the Tories flared up after Labour leader Mr Miliband forced the Prime Minister into watering down the motion he put before MPs today over action on Syria.
In the letter, shadow cabinet office minister Michael Dugher said: ‘You will have noticed reports (that) Craig Oliver has described the Leader of Opposition as giving “succour to Assad”.
‘It is language which is infantile and irresponsible. It follows a pattern of behaviour by 10 Downing Street through recent days which demeans the office of Prime Minister.
‘It is particularly disappointing given the serious nature of today’s debate and the fact that throughout the country people will be listening with great concern about events in Syria, some knowing their relatives could soon be involved in military action.
EMOTIONAL CAMERON CONDEMNS VIDEOS OF HUMAN SUFFERING
A clearly emotional David Cameron said he would never forget the images of children suffering in the aftermath of the devastating chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
He urged everyone to ‘force themselves’ to watch video footage of the victims of the atrocity.
The PM’s voice cracked as he told MPs: ‘The video footage illustrates some of the most sickening human suffering imaginable and expert video analysis can find no way this wide array of footage could have been fabricated, particularly with the behaviour of small children in those shocking videos.
‘Anyone in this chamber who has not seen those videos, I believe, should force themselves to watch them.
‘You can never forget the sight of children’s bodies stored in ice, young men and women gasping for air and suffering the most agonising deaths, and all inflicted by weapons that have been outlawed for nearly a century.’
‘We ask that Mr Oliver apologises and withdraws the remark.’
Downing Street had stepped up its attack on Mr Miliband, by suggesting his ‘flip-flopping’ would be welcomed by the Syrian regime in delaying any UK response to its use of chemical weapons.
It comes after government insiders branded the Labour leader a ‘f****** c***’ after suddenly withdrawing support for a military airstrike against Syria, which forced David Cameron to abandon plans to push for imminent action.
Labour is to vote against the principle of military intervention in Syria tonight, demanding ‘compelling evidence’ before committing its support for the Government’s approach.
In an emergency Commons debate, Mr Cameron launched an impassioned plea to MPs to back his stance against Syria’s use of chemical weapons as he insisted ‘this is not like Iraq’.
But amid growing confusion about what Labour’s position is, Mr Miliband insisted he is not ruling out military intervention in Syria but the potential consequences of such action needs to be clear.
A Downing Street spokesman told journalists in Westminster that Labour is ‘giving succour to Assad’ and Mr Miliband is ‘flip-flopping’.
A second spokesman said: ‘The arguments over this could give succour to the regime.’
In response a Labour source said Downing Street had ‘lowered itself to the level of personal abuse’.
‘David Cameron says he wants a consensual approach – his representatives are lowering themselves to a level which we think is uncalled for,’ the source added.
As the main party leaders briefed their MPs on their return to Westminster for the emergency recall of Parliament, six RAF Typhoon jets were deployed to Cyprus to protect UK interests and sovereign bases.
Campaign: UKIP leader Nigel Farage (left) and his deputy Paul Nuttall launched this poster opposing Britain intervention in Syria
A dossier of evidence gathered by the intelligence services in Syria has been published by the government today to step up pressure on opponents to British involvement in military action against the Assad regime.
Mr Cameron has been forced to delay plans for immediate military strikes after being warned he faced losing a Commons vote.
It means a second vote will have to be held before any British involvement in military action against Syria.
There is growing anger inside government with Labour’s shifting position as the divided opposition issued a tortured statement, claiming Mr Cameron had failed to produce ‘compelling evidence’ showing the Assad regime had deployed chemical weapons.
Throwing the Government’s plans for a vote on imminent missile attacks into chaos, Mr Miliband’s party did not come out and oppose intervention.
Instead it claimed any action would have to meet seven gruelling criteria which could take weeks to fulfil.
Mr Miliband said: ‘Parliament must agree criteria for action, not write a blank cheque.’
But his refusal to support the Coalition sparked a furious response from the heart of government.
‘Number 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c**** and a copper-bottomed s***,’ a government source told The Times.
Condemnation: Mr Farage said David Cameron’s policy on Syria was his ‘gravest misjudgment yet’
‘The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic Party,’ the source added.
The official Conservative press office Twitter feed said: ‘Ed-Miliband is playing politics when he should be thinking about the national interest and global security.’
Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi tweeted: ‘It’s weak leadership to seek political advantage while every effort is being made to achieve consensus in the national interest Ed-Miliband.’
Meanwhile UKIP leader Nigel Farage branded Cameron’s policy on Syria as his ‘gravest misjudgment yet’.
Launching a poster against war in Syria, Mr Farage claimed his own party’s decision to oppose military intervention was ‘the single most popular thing UKIP’s ever said’.
He added: ‘Syria now appears to be Mr Cameron’s gravest misjudgment yet.
‘His continued attempts to ape Tony Blair in so many policy areas have finally caught up with him.
‘There’s almost no public appetite to enter into another foreign war and I think his own backbenchers are really very scared of what this might do to their prospects.’
Top brass: Chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nick Houghton (L) and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond arrive for a cabinet meeting at Number 10
Downing Street published the official legal position suggesting Britain would not breach international law if it launched ‘military intervention to strike specific targets with the aim of deterring and disrupting’ further use of chemical weapons.
And the government released an intelligence report – likened to the so-called Iraq dodgy dossier – which claimed it is ‘highly likely’ that the Syrian regime was responsible for a chemical attack in Damascus on August 21.
The Prime Minister yesterday battled desperately to get a consensus for a missile attack, but was forced by Mr Miliband and Tory rebels to allow UN inspectors time to report on last week’s chemical weapons atrocity.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today said he is ‘wrestling’ with the decision of whether to support military action.
The Lib Dem leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘A terrible war crime has been committed a week ago. We face a judgment, a choice, everybody does by the way, every single MP. I’m struggling with this, I’m wrestling with this.’
But he also revealed the UK could sanction targeted attacks to deter further use of chemical weapons, even without securing a United Nations resolution.
‘There are circumstances if the Russians and Chinese continue to block a UN decision which we are seeking for, then I personally think there are legal, moral and other grounds which would justify taking measures under humanitarian law,’ he told LBC 97.3.
Cabinet: International Development Secretary Justine Greening, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Home Secretary Theresa May were briefed on the latest developments in Number 10 today
CLEGG: ‘I’M WRESTLING WITH DECISION TO BACK ACTION IN SYRIA’
Nick Clegg has described how he is ‘wrestling’ with the decision of whether to support military action in Syria.
The Deputy Prime Minister said it was the government’s judgement that it is ‘much more likely that Assad will use chemical weapons more frequently, in a more widespread way if we don’t [act]’.
He warned that ‘doing nothing in the face of a war crime, a crime against humanity’ amounted to ‘taking a very active choice’.
But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We face a judgment, a choice, everybody does by the way, every single MP.
‘I’m struggling with this, I’m wrestling with this.
‘These are no easy choices to make and there is no risk-free choice to make.’
Ahead of the Commons debate, Mr Clegg faced a rough ride from some Lib Dem MPs when he briefed them on the government’s plans.
However, a survey of almost 600 Lib Dem members by the LibDemVoice website showed up to 69 per cent would be prepared to back British intervention in Syria – but only if vital conditions are met.
The Ministry of Defence said six Typhoon jets are being sent to Akrotiri in Cyprus today ‘at a time of heightened tension in the wider region’.
It stressed the move is a ‘prudent and precautionary measure’ and the planes are not deploying to take part in military action against Syria.
A spokesman said: ‘The PM has made clear no decision has been taken on our response and the Government has said that there will be a Commons vote before direct military involvement.’
Meanwhile Russia, Syria’s major ally, moved to send two warships to the east Mediterranean.
The Interfax news agency reported that a missile cruiser from the Black Sea Fleet and a large anti-submarine ship from the Northern Fleet would be deployed in the ‘coming days’.
Ahead of the Commons debate, Downing Street published legal advice on taking military action in Syria.
The Government also released an Iraq-style dossier for all MPs to set out their case for intervention.
But Home Secretary Theresa May and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond are among four members of the Cabinet rumoured to be harbouring ‘grave doubts’ about the rush to war.
Tory grandee David Davis joined Conservative rebels opposed to an attack, who now number dozens as polls suggested that the public were overwhelmingly opposed to military strikes.
The decision to wait for a second vote is a humiliating setback for Mr Cameron who had privately promised Barack Obama that Britain would stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States.
British officials had to phone their counterparts in the US last night to explain that President Obama would have to go it alone or wait to see if Mr Cameron can persuade MPs to back him in the coming days.
It could leave President Obama to go it alone and order an attack as early as this weekend.
Undecided: President Obama said in an interview with PBS NewsHour on Wednesday that so far, no decision has been reached on a possible airstrike against Syria
In an interview with US station PBS, the president insisted that he has not made a decision yet regarding a possible U.S. strike against Syria.
He said that allegations that his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons on civilian populations would factor into his calculation and he warned that Assad should be held accountable.
Mr Obama stressed, however, that he has ‘no interest’ in ‘any kind of open-ended conflict’ in the Middle Eastern country.
‘So what I’ve said is that we have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place,’ Mr Obama said during the interview.
‘And nobody disputes — or hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations.’
‘BEFORE YOU RUSH OVER THE CLIFF…’ SYRIAN LETTERS TO BRITISH MPS
The letter (left) from the Syrian government to British MPs warning a military strike would be an ‘unprovoked act of war’ while a separate letter (right) from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces urged the UK to send a message to the Assad regime ‘that it cannot gas sleeping children with impunity’
The Syrian government and rebel forces issued direct appeals to British MPs ahead of tonight’s vote.
The Assad regime urged MPs ‘we ask you not to bomb us but to work with us’ and drew parallels with Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Speaker of the Syrian Parliament wrote the open letter to Commons Speaker John Bercow, Sky News reported.
It said: ‘Before you rush over the cliffs of war, would it not be wise to pause? Remember the thousands of British soldiers killed and maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq.’
An international strike would be ‘an aggressive and unprovoked act of war’, the letter added.
However, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has written a rival letter calling on the UK to act to prevent future use of chemical weapons.
Secretary General Bader Jamous said: ‘We call upon you to send a message to the regime that it cannot gas sleeping children with impunity.’
The stand-off between Labour and the government means that today’s Commons recall will only debate the idea of military action in principle and not give the green light to any specific action in Syria.
Mr Miliband said: ‘I’m clear that this is a very grave decision to take military action that the House of Commons would be making and I didn’t think that that decision should be made on an artificial timetable when the House of Commons wouldn’t even have seen the evidence today from the UN weapons inspectors.
‘I’m determined to learn the lessons of the past, including Iraq, and we can’t have the House of Commons being asked to write a blank cheque to the PM for military action.’
Listening: Protesters hear from Diane Abbot MP at a Stop the War Coalition demonstration at Downing Street
Q&A: WOULD A US-UK MILITARY STRIKE ON SYRIA BE LEGAL?
Would bombing Syria be lawful?
Britain and the US insist it would be, but the truth is far from clear. It’s hard to see how Syria’s reported chemical attacks against its own citizens present a direct threat to either country.
What specific laws or UN conventions might be used as justification?
The UN Charter allows for military action on only two grounds – in self-defence, or if action is approved by the UN Security Council. Neither applies here.
Russia and China will veto any proposed Security Council resolution authorising action.
Can a military strike be legal without a UN resolution?
Unclear. In 1999, the Nato bombing campaign against Serbia was launched without one, with Tony Blair and President Clinton seeking to justify it on humanitarian grounds to protect Kosovan civilians. The intervention was widely welcomed, but its legality was questionable. A similar humanitarian argument is being used to defend intervention in Syria.
Does the UN have a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ the Syrians?
In 2005, following the hideous atrocities committed in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, the UN brought forward an initiative called the ‘Responsibility to Protect’.
It was designed to protect the innocent from genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing and places a duty on individual states to prevent such horrors within their borders, and an obligation to intervene if they see it elsewhere.
But former UN assistant Secretary-General, Francesc Vendrell, says the doctrine does not necessarily justify the use of force.
All diplomatic efforts must have been tried first, and even then military intervention requires the backing of the Security Council – taking David Cameron and President Obama back to square one.
Does the PM need Parliamentary backing for a bombing campaign?
Technically, no. He retains the power, under Royal Prerogative, to use military force without Parliamentary approval.
However, all recent major military interventions – including the wars in Iraq and Libya – have been preceded by a Commons vote. The Government has made clear it will ‘respect the outcome’ of tonight’s.
Mr Miliband said the last Labour government made ‘mistakes’ in the run-up to the Iraq war a decade ago which must not be repeated.
He said: ‘One of the most important lessons from Iraq is about giving the United Nations – which is the body that we are part of – the proper chance to do its work.
‘And I believe that if we tried to make that decision today on military action, we wouldn’t have been giving the United Nations the proper time to do that work.
‘That’s why I think it’s the right thing to do to put forward Labour’s amendment.’
A Labour source said: ‘We will be pressing ahead with our amendment. We believe it gives a clearer road map, sets our clearer, criteria of what must be done before any military action is taken.’
Government sources said Mr Cameron was still determined to get approval for a retaliatory strike on Syria within days. A second Commons vote is likely to be held early next week.
Mr Cameron will now rush out an Iraq-style intelligence dossier on Syria this morning in a desperate bid to persuade his own MPs – and Labour – that Assad’s use of chemical weapons must be met with a show of force from the West.
Deputy PM Mr Clegg said that ‘all the evidence points to the regime being responsible’.
Last night it was unclear whether the United States will press ahead with plans for a missile bombardment this weekend – or pause its assault to see if Mr Cameron can deliver British support.
Just before 6pm the Labour leader, who has dithered for days over the issue, said he would order his divided party to vote against immediate action, to allow the United Nations more time to consider evidence about the atrocity.
Within an hour the Government had issued its own Parliamentary motion saying it would not act until the UN Security Council had had time to consider the report of the weapons inspectors.
A Government source said Mr Miliband had ‘barely mentioned the UN’ when he held talks with Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg in Downing Street on Tuesday.
He then phoned the Prime Minister on Tuesday night to say he needed a ‘UN moment’ before he could act – prompting Britain to table a UN Security Council resolution yesterday despite the certain knowledge it would be blocked by Russia.
He then visited Downing Street again yesterday to demand that the inspectors be allowed to report, even though they have not been asked to rule on whether Assad was responsible for last week’s atrocity.
With dozens of Tories also warning they were yet to be convinced by the case for an attack, Mr Cameron was facing the prospect of a potential Commons defeat and had no choice but to give way.
A Downing Street spokesman said the new Commons motion ‘reflects the Prime Minister’s respect for the UN process – something he made clear to President Obama several days ago’.
CAMERON’S MOTION IN FULL: AWASH WITH CONDITIONS AND CAVEATS
David Cameron has tabled a watered down motion for the Commons vote
The 370-word motion agrees that military action may be necessary and would be legally sound. But it’s awash with conditions, caveats and turgid language.
‘Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
‘Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
‘Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this 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;
‘Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
‘Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity – and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
‘Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
‘Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
‘Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus.
‘Whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
‘Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken. Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place.
‘Notes that this motion relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.’
MILIBAND’S AMENDMENT: LABOUR LEADER SETS TESTS FOR ACTION
Labour leader Ed Miliband has set seven tests before he would back UK military action
Labour’s 328-word amendment sets seven tests which would have to be made before Ed Miliband’s party will back UK military action:
‘This House expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013; believes that this was a moral outrage;
recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons;
makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law;
agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians;
supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met:
– The UN weapons inspectors, upon the conclusion of their mission in the Eastern Ghutah, being given the necessary opportunity to make a report to the Security Council on the evidence and their findings, and confirmation by them that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
– The production of compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons;
– The UN Security Council having considered and voted on this matter in the light of the reports of the weapons inspectors and the evidence submitted;
– There being a clear legal basis in international law for taking collective military action to protect the Syrian people on humanitarian grounds;
– That such action must have regard to the potential consequences in the region, and must therefore be legal, proportionate, time-limited and have precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria; and
– That the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action.
– This House further notes that such action relates solely to efforts to deter the use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any wider action in Syria.’
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