Defying democracy - Britain’s continued interventionism on Syria

By Ed

17 September 2013

This is a guest post by Ian Sinclair*

The government’s defeat in parliament on 30 August 2013 was an important victory for those opposed to UK military action against Syria. Responding to the vote, the Prime Minister stated,

“it is clear to me 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.”

Polls show that not only does a majority of the British public not support British military action but a majority is opposed to US military action against Syria without British support. In addition, a YouGov poll taken a few days before the parliamentary vote found 58 per cent of respondents opposed “sending small arms such as hand guns to the anti-Assad troops”, with just 16 per cent supporting. This opposition has continued after the vote, with an ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll finding just 3 per cent of respondents thought the UK should be “arming Syrian anti-Government rebels.”

However, if you thought the parliamentary vote and Cameron’s statement meant the UK would not support any military strikes against the Syrian Government or would stop the Government acting in ways that militarised the conflict, then you’d be wrong. In actual fact the defeated Government, using a conveniently narrow definition of “British military action”, has continued to assist the US in its aggressive, warmongering policy towards Syria. This is a policy of regime change according to the US Secretary of State, who told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that “President Obama’s policy is that Assad must go”.

The day after the parliamentary vote, the Daily Telegraph reported, “the UK’s intelligence-gathering assets based in the Mediterranean are to provide the US military with information, as it prepares to carry out cruise missiles strikes against President Bashar al-Assad. Whitehall sources said Britain’s decision not to take part in attacks punishing the regime for using chemical weapons only covered its Armed Forces, and the sharing of intelligence would continue.”

But it was not just the intelligence services who ignored the will of parliament and public opinion. According to the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour, “the British prime minister acted as one of the most consistent advocates of military intervention” at the G20 summit in St Petersburg on 5-6 September. “Cameron was determined to call others to arms” and to “provide the evidence that Assad's regime must have used chemical weapons".

Despite the best efforts of Cameron and co., a series of diplomatic manoeuvres has delayed and possibly stopped a US-led attack on Syria. With Syria pledging to sign an international chemical weapons treaty and admit the scale of its chemical weapons stockpile for the first time, on 10 September the Guardian reported that “the US, Britain and France are preparing a hard-edged [United Nations] security council resolution backed by the possible use of force.”

During all the intense diplomacy, the arming of the Syrian rebels has continued, with a 12 September New York Times report noting that “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria, the rebels say.”

All these efforts by the UK Government to militarise the conflict in Syria have been reported in the mainstream media but the question of whether the government has any moral authority to continue these policies is never discussed.

For those who oppose Western military intervention in Syria the lesson is clear: we cannot be complacent. The parliamentary vote, though an important victory, has not been enough to stop our Prime Minister pushing for war and British intelligence supporting any US military strike and continuing to help arm the rebels. More popular pressure is needed. We might also consider what the Government's continued defiance of popular will on Syria tells us about how British foreign policy is determined.

*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London and the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He can be contacted at and

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4 Comments on "Defying democracy - Britain’s continued interventionism on Syria"

By David Ellis, on 19 September 2013 - 10:14 |

`The government’s defeat in parliament on 30 August 2013 was an important victory for those opposed to UK military action against Syria.’

Mainly the far right anti-Arab Spring brigade and the neo-Stalinist anti-revolution left. This is a victory for reaction, for gassing, for mass murder, for Assad, for Putin, for the Tory Right, New Labour, the US Tea Party. This is not a victory for the working class. This is the fate of the working class and guess what Ed Milliband and the revolting UK `left’ has shown us that they are intensly relaxed about it and happy to shoulder the blame for the next atrocity.

By Alex K, on 21 September 2013 - 19:46 |

The atrocity is that the so called “good guys” Nato Us Uk and co are supporting and arming terrorists. Scum that eat intestines of victims and support Sharia law. The war would be over ina day if the aforementioned wern’t willing to sacrifice many more Syrians in order to accomplish their goal of regime change.

By Ian Sinclair, on 23 September 2013 - 11:46 |

Hi David Ellis.

Many thanks for your comment.

You say Ed Miliband and “the revolting UK ‘left’... are intensely relaxed about… the next atrocity” however you fail to engage with the numerous experts and NGOs who point out a Western military attack on Syria will make the humanitarian situation in Syria much worse.

To take a couple of examples:

“If you’re talking about five million people displaced internally and two million people who are now refugees in neighbouring countries; if you have one million refugee children who are now away from their homes and their schools, this is already a dramatic situation. So imagine if this is to be compounded by a military strike? It will only add to the suffering.” – Yacoub El Hillo, highest ranking UN humanitarian official in Syria

“An escalation in military engagement within Syria will worsen an already-precarious humanitarian situation, leading to more civilian casualties and further destruction of infrastructure. It has the potential to jeopardise humanitarian access without bringing an end to the conflict any closer.” – Janet Symes, Christian Aid

I’d be interested to hear what you make of this expert testimony?


By Ian Sinclair, on 23 September 2013 - 11:50 |

Hi Alex K.

Thanks for your comment.

I agree that the US and UK arming the Syrian rebels is a bad idea as it will likely prolong the war and increase the levels of violence and therefore death and destruction. For example, in April the UN Secretary-General noted:

“Expressing his deep concern at the ever-deteriorating situation in Syria, and its growing regional impact, the Secretary-General called for stemming the supply of arms to any side in the Syrian conflict.  More arms would only mean more deaths and destruction.  He underlined the appalling humanitarian crisis in Syria, where a third of the population is now in need of urgent assistance, and he strongly reiterated his appeal for donor countries to fully support United Nations humanitarian efforts.” – UN report on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s meeting with Qatar’s Prime Minister, 22 April 2013 (

More expert testimony on this issue can be found here:



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