UK ministers say no to fresh debate over Syria strikes

CROSS-PARTY CALL::The foreign and finance chiefs said parliament has spoken and the British government would only offer diplomatic support to allied countries

The Guardian, LONDON

Tue, Sep 03, 2013 - Page 7

The UK on Sunday ruled out any involvement in military strikes against Syria despite cross-party calls for British Prime Minister David Cameron to consult parliament again if definitive evidence emerges linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to the chemical weapons attack.

Amid divisions within the Labour Party after Ed Miliband killed off any British involvement in military strikes, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind led the calls for options to be kept open.

The intervention by Rifkind echoed similar calls from a range of figures — including from former Tory leader Lord Michael Howard, former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Paddy Ashdown and the former Labour Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw.

However, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said that parliament had spoken and Britain would only offer diplomatic support to its allies.

In his first major interview since the government’s defeat in the Commons on Thursday night, Hague said he could only envisage a change in UK policy if Labour became “less partisan.”

His remarks were echoed by Osborne, who told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that Miliband looked less like a future prime minister after helping to defeat the government.

“Parliament has spoken,” Hague told the Murnaghan Show on Sky News. “I don’t think it is realistic to think that we can go back to parliament every week with the same question having received no for an answer.”

Switching the focus to his political opponents, Hague said: “The Labour leadership would have to play a less opportunistic role and be prepared to take yes for an answer in terms of the motions that we present to the House of Commons.”

Hague also prompted speculation at Westminster that he had offered to resign when he appeared to give an equivocal answer when he was asked whether he had considered quitting. He said “no,” but then indicated that Cameron was keen for him to continue.

“The prime minister is very clear that we all have to get on with this in the way that I just described and that’s what we are all in the Cabinet determined to do,” he said.

Government sources emphatically denied that Hague had offered to resign.

The clear indication from Hague and Osborne that the government will not put military intervention on the table came as ministers started to formulate a response to Miliband, who had infuriated the prime minister with his tactics last week.

Cameron believes the Labour leader acted dishonorably by claiming that he was trying to secure a proper legal and political footing for military intervention while knowing that a vote against the government motion would kill off that option.

The Tories are saying that they will allow the mounting evidence of the involvement of al-Assad’s regime in the chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 to highlight what they regard as duplicity by Labour. They are also planning to exploit Labour divisions. Some senior Labour figures have privately described Miliband’s stance as “odd” and suggested that he has secured a tactical victory that might give him problems in the long term.

Murphy is fully supportive of Miliband, but said he had no doubt that al-Assad’s regime had launched the attack.

“It wasn’t that I was in any doubt that the [al-]Assad regime was responsible — I don’t believe that rebels gassed their own people,” he said in the Murnaghan show.