After cutting short his summer holiday in Cornwall to return to Downing Street, David Cameron is expected to decide later today whether to recall Parliament in response to the crisis in Syria. More than 60 MPs have now signed Labour MP Graham Allen’s Early Day Motion demanding “a full debate before any British commitment to military action in Syria”.
But while Cameron may be willing to grant a debate, this leaves open the question of whether a vote will be held before any action is taken. Interviewed on the Today programme this morning, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander raised the stakes by arguing that there “should be a vote” after the government has set out its case for intervention. Asked whether action could still be taken if MPs refused to vote in favour, he replied: “I don’t think it [the government] would have a mandate in Parliament, I can’t state it more clearly than that.” Significantly, he added that Labour “would whip” its MPs against military action if it was not persuaded by the government’s case. Alexander said that he was “unconvinced” that an air campaign could “decisively resolve a conflict that has unfolded in the last two years in Syria.” He criticised William Hague for “almost implying force is inevitable without setting out the evidence and the objectives”.
While the government has previously promised MPs a vote on Syria, this commitment was made in reference to arming the rebels, not conducting air strikes. William Hague said in June: “We have a good record on going to the House of Commons for a vote. There would be a vote one way or another. I can’t see any reason why it couldn’t be before any such decision was implemented. Just for the sake of clarity, we wouldn’t use a parliamentary recess to say we can’t consult parliament because it’s the middle of August, so MPs don’t have to be concerned about that.” After Alexander’s intervention, the government is likely to come under significant pressure from MPs of all parties to also ensure that Parliament has the final say on whether Britain participates in an air campaign against Syria.