Any action in Syria will be worse off without navy

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After all the speeches, the persuasion, the whips and the debate, it is difficult to come away from last night’s parliamentary vote on Syria without feeling dissatisfied.

The defeat the government suffered would appear to rule out intervention completely – as taking part in any action would go against the will of Parliament and could not be supported.

But this vote was held before UN weapons inspectors could complete their work in the country and give an accurate picture of what happened in the chemical attack last week. Those events were horrifying, but demanding as much information about the mass murders before possible military action is not the same as endorsing them. Common sense would say that, regardless of one’s views on intervention, it is wise to judge it with all the information – and as the British government’s most recent assessment still contains many qualified phrases such as ‘there is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack’ it is easy to understand the reluctance of MPs to commit.

The dissatisfaction over the timing of this vote extends to the UK’s naval presence in the Mediterranean at the moment. Should the US persist with its plan to launch attacks – or at least some form of action – on Syria, its own hands will be weakened by not having Royal Navy expertise.

HMS Westminster and HMS Illustrious must therefore stand idly by in the face of the likely American action, which is not a great advert for a united world.

But that blame should not be placed at the feet of the MPs who were unwilling to sanction action while the exact story of last week’s chemical attack remained unclear.

Even though last night’s vote was not a direct call for military action, the fact that it had originally been one meant that the similarities with the Iraq war were too haunting to ignore. And it meant MPs were nervous to give a mandate.

In many ways a defeat for the government is a reminder of the vigour of democracy, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but this rushed and flawed motion leaves a nasty aftertaste.

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