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Philip Hammond refuses to rule out second vote on Syria

Defence secretary says parliament could look again at the issue if circumstances "change very significantly".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stands in front of a Rapier System ground-to-air missile launcher during a visit to RAF Waddington near Lincoln. Photograph: Getty Images.

Downing Street has spent the day fending off multiple calls for a second vote on Syria, stating that the government has "absolutely no plans" to go back to parliament. In addition, Nick Clegg said that he could not "foresee any circumstances" in which the possibility of military action would be raised again. 

But at defence questions this afternoon, Philip Hammond was careful to leave the government with some wriggle room. In response to shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, who has expressed "unease" at David Cameron's decision to take military action against Syria off the table, he said: 

Circumstances would have to change very significantly before parliament would want to look again at this issue.

That answer will prompt speculation about what those "circumstances" might be, the most obvious being another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.

But the political reality is that it suits both Cameron and Ed Miliband to close down debate over a second vote. Cameron is understandably reluctant to avoid appearing indecisive by putting military action back on the table and, in view of Labour's unpredictable stance, is not confident of winning a second vote.

Miliband, who narrowly managed to avoid a major party split, has little incentive to offer Cameron his support for raising the possibility of intervention. Shadow transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick resigned before last week's vote over Miliband's refusal to rule out intervention and I'm told by a party source that at least six other frontbenchers, including one shadow cabinet minister, were prepared to do so. After a woeful summer, Miliband has regained some authority as the man who prevented a precipitous rush to war even if, as Boris Johnson wrote today, "his real position has been more weaselly". It suits him to now treat the question of military action as closed.

With all this in mind, after last week's extraordinary events, it would be wise to avoid easy predictions.