As expected, MPs have just voted in favour of UK military action against Isis in Iraq by 524-43. The clear legal basis for intervention, the involvement of regional actors and the government’s commitment not to use British ground troops (which was sufficient to secure Labour’s support) meant there was never any danger of David Cameron suffering a repeat of last summer’s humiliation over Syria.
Labour whips estimate that the rebels comprised 24 of their own party, five Tories and two Lib Dems. Rushanara Ali, the shadow education minister, who represents Bethnal Green and Bow (George Galloway’s old constituency) has resigned from the Labour frontbench in protest.
The key question now, as I wrote earlier, is whether MPs will be asked to vote at some point in the near future on action in Syria. During the debate, a significant number argued that there was little purpose in targeting Isis in Iraq if it would be able to regroup across the now-irrelevant border.
Cameron made it clear that he believes there is a case for action in Syria, and that there is “no legal barrier”. But he emphasised that he wanted to “proceed on the basis of consensus”. In other words, with the support of Labour. In his response, Miliband raised three concerns over strikes in Syria. He argued that while there was “a strong legal argument for action” under Article 51 of the UN Charter, it would “be better” to seek a UN Security Council Resolution (which Russia would almost certainly veto); that the mission would require regional ground troops; and that “a lot more work” needed to be done on a “route map” for action.
But Labour emphasised afterwards that it had not made a UN resolution “a condition of future action”, rather that it wanted Cameron to go down the UN route in order to secure greater “legitimacy”. It remains plausible that Miliband could support strikes against Isis in Syria if the government acts as he has advised.
Update: Here’s the resignation statement issued by Rushanara Ali: “I understand the case that has been made and will not be voting against the motion. But I am unable in conscience to support the motion and I will make a deliberate abstention.
“There can be no doubt that the actions of Isil are horrific and barbaric and I share the revulsion that everyone in our country feels towards them.
“However, I am not confident that this military action will be effective in the short term in just targeting the terrorists and not harming innocent civilians. Nor can I pretend to have any confidence that there is a credible long-term strategy to build up the capacity of the Iraqi army or that the potential impact on radicalisation in the UK has been properly thought through.
“Despite good intentions, too many mistakes have been made over the last decade and far too many people in conflict zones have had to pay a high price for misconceived actions by the UK and other countries.
“I appreciate the sincerity of Members of Parliament from all sides of the House who today support military action against Isil. I know that British Muslims stand united in the total condemnation of the murders that Isil have committed.
“However, there is a genuine belief in Muslim and non-Muslim communities that military action will only create further bloodshed and further pain for the people of Iraq.”