British Parliament Rejects Military Strikes On Syria

The British Parliament has refused to endorse a military strike against Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron had called the session to argue for military intervention in Syria in response to the apparent chemical strike that killed hundreds there.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Britain's parliament has spoken.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The ayes to the right 272, the noes to the left 285.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Order. Order.

WERTHEIMER: With that vote, parliament decided that the U.K. will not stand with the United States in a possible military strike against Syria over the regime's use of deadly chemical weapons.

It was a humiliating defeat for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. But he accepted the decision.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, GREAT BRITAIN: It is very 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.

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WERTHEIMER: This morning - as the dust settles - people on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to figure out the implications of this development. For more details, we're joined from London by NPR's Philip Reeves.

Philip, before we look at the big picture, let's get some details. Now I understand this was a surprise. What happened?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It was a surprise. The chief architect of this defeat was the opposition Labour Party. But 30 of Cameron's fellow conservatives - and a handful of liberal Democrats, who are junior partners in government - rebelled. What's interesting about this is that the Labour position wasn't actually against eventually approving the use of force. He felt that Cameron was rushing to judgment in a cavalier and reckless fashion, so it wanted more time to be spent securing international support and more hard evidence to be gathered before giving its support.

WERTHEIMER: Phil, how important a role did memories of Iraq play in this decision?

REEVES: Iraq was mentioned many times in yesterday's debate. Parliamentarians haven't forgotten all those assurances about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be nonexistent. Those who inflicted this humiliating defeat on Cameron yesterday were determined not to make the same mistake again. That, coupled with concerns about the absence of an exit strategy, the uncertain outcome that comes whenever outsiders stir the hornet's nest of the Middle East, and a feeling also that Cameron was rushing Britain into this, and among some here that the White House was rushing him. All that added together led to this defeat for Cameron.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now how do the people in Britain reacted to this? And if they are opposed to striking Syria, how do they respond to the awful videos we've seen of Syrian victims of this attack?

REEVES: There is a sense that this is a big historic moment. You know, some are even calling it Britain's greatest foreign policy crisis since the Suez in 1956. There's a lot of national soul-searching going on about Britain's role in the world as a recurring theme here and has been since the end of the British Empire. Warnings abound from those who supported military intervention, that this will embolden Assad and other dictators and that they'll be more chemical weapons attacks and that the laws banning these weapons will be even harder to enforce.

The Times of London this morning has a passionate editorial, calling this a disaster for Britain, which has turned its back on its tradition of standing up to tyrants, a disaster for the Transatlantic Alliance - that's the relationship between U.S. and Britain, and a disaster for the people of Syria. And the Daily Mirror tabloid though, captures the public mood with a huge headline that simply says: We Don't Want Your War.

WERTHEIMER: What about the rest of Europe. Do you think this is going to spread and affect America's other allies?

REEVES: All eyes are now on France. It's the U.S.'s other big European partner in possible military intervention. President Hollande has been rallying public support for acting against Assad. And officials in Paris are saying that the U.K.'s withdrawal changes nothing. Although, I'm told this morning by NPR's correspondent there, Eleanor Beardsley, that the French public are somewhat stunned by this sudden turnaround by the British.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Philip Reeves in London. Phil, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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