Labour piles the pressure on Cameron as it warns it could still vote against his Syria motion

Unless the PM makes further concessions to Miliband, or wins over a sufficient number of coalition MPs, he faces the prospect of parliamentary defeat.

With Labour, Lib Dem rebels and up to 70 Tory backbenchers all opposed to immediate British military action against Syria, David Cameron faced the prospect of parliamentary defeat. It was this that forced him to back down last night and accept Ed Miliband's demand that no decision be made until after the UN weapons inspectors have presented their findings on last week's Ghouta massacre to the Security Council. 

The government motion was published and guaranteed that a "further vote of the House of Commons" would be held before any "direct British involvement". In line with Labour's position it stated that "[This House] agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission; Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken."

But if Cameron believed that a political consensus had been achieved, it looked like he was wrong to do so. Labour has signalled that it still plans to vote for its own amendment this evening and has refused to rule out opposing the government's motion. A party spokesman said this morning that the party's amendment "provides a roadmap towards what must happen before any action is taken" and sets out "clearer criteria" than the government's.

The question now is what concessions Cameron would have to offer to secure Miliband's support and whether he is prepared to do so. Labour's amendment, for instance, suggests that military action should only take place if there is "compelling evidence" that the regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons but the government's motion makes no such stipulation and notes that "the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame". As things stand, it is hard to see how that divide will be bridged. But unless Cameron is able to win Labour round, or to persuade a sufficient number of coalition MPs to support the government, he faces the prospect of something unprecedented in recent history: parliamentary defeat on a matter of peace and war. 

Protesters gather on Whitehall outside Downing Street to demonstrate against western military action against Syria. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.