Direct military action forced to wait on result of double Commons vote
Direct military action may be necessary as part of a "strong humanitarian response" to the use of chemical weapons in Syria but will need the backing of two House of Commons votes before the order for a strike can be given, it emerged last night.
David Cameron, who earlier said the world could "not stand idly by" in the face of the "massive use" of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad's regime, was last nightforced to concede that a vote on UK military action in Syria should await a report by UN inspectors on the use of chemical weapons, in the face of opposition from Labour and rebel MPs.
It means the House of Commons will have to hold two votes before it can back "direct" military action in Syria, the government said.
The Prime Minister has recalled Parliament today to consider the response to the use of chemical weapons and MPs will now be asked to agree the principle that military action may be justified in response to the atrocity – while military forces remain on standby in the Mediterranean.
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Mr Cameron accepted that a second vote allowing direct British military involvement would be necessary after Labour leader Ed Miliband indicated he would oppose the Government in the Commons unless the inspectors were allowed to complete their work, Opposition sources said.
However, the motion will ask MPs to agree the principle that a "strong humanitarian response" is required from the international community and "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".
Downing Street said Mr Cameron was determined to act in a consensual way and had never ruled out a second vote, although he believed it would be "difficult".
The motion which the Prime Minister will present in the Commons, states that the UN Security Council (UNSC) should consider a briefing from the inspectors and seek to agree a resolution on military strikes against Syria – although ministers conceded this was unlikely given Russian and Chinese opposition.
Crucially it states: "Before any direct British involvement in such action, a further vote of the House of Commons will take place."
Labour said the Prime Minister had committed a U-turn on the need for a second vote 90 minutes after being informed of Mr Miliband's stance.
A number of Government backbenchers have also expressed concerns about the prospect of UK involvement in the complex and bloody civil war in Syria.
A senior Labour source said: "We will continue to scrutinise this motion, but at 5.15pm, David Cameron totally ruled out a second vote; an hour-and-a-half later he changed his mind.
"Ed was determined to do the right thing. It has taken Labour forcing a vote to force the Government to do the right thing."
A senior No 10 source said: "This is obviously a fluid and fast-moving situation. The Prime Minister has been trying to be consensual all along. This motion is designed to be consensual.
"This country is bruised by what happened over Iraq. We want to be clear about what we think needs to be done, but it needs to be done on a consensual basis."
Earlier Foreign Secretary William Hague had said the UK may act whether or not a consensus was reached by the five permanent members of the UNSC.
Mr Hague had said the international community had a responsibility to take action against Syrian war crimes even without a UN resolution.
Downing Street has insisted that the Prime Minister is committed to the UN process and had made his views clear to US president Barack Obama during their discussions on how to respond to the use of chemical agents.
The West has been frustrated by the use of the veto by Russia and China at the UNSC, but the motion states that "in spite of the difficulties" the UN process should be "followed as far as possible".
Under the terms of the motion the UNSC will be given the opportunity to consider their briefing and "every effort should be made to secure a security council resolution backing military action".
Mr Hague said: "This is the first use of chemical warfare in the 21st century – it has to be unacceptable, we have to confront something that is a war crime, something that is a crime against humanity.
"If we don't do so then we will have to confront even bigger war crimes in the future."