A military strike on Syria could spread chaos across neighbouring Middle East countries, a senior North East MP has warned.
Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith spoke out as MPs debated whether the UK should take part in an attack on Syria following claims that the regime – led by President Bashar al-Assad – was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack which killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Damascus earlier this month.
Sir Alan, a former deputy leader of his party, backed a Government motion condemning the use of chemical weapons.
But, speaking in the Commons, he said he had not yet been convinced to support military action, adding that there needed to be “a coherent plan that does not inflict too much damage on neighbouring countries”.
He was one of a number of MPs to express doubts about a possible US-led attack on Syria, where the Government has been fighting a civil war against rebels for two years.
Conservative Stockton South MP James Wharton published an article on his website saying he was “reluctant to get involved in Syria”, but also saying there must be consequences for the use of chemical weapons.
He said: “We need to understand what has happened and to respond in an appropriate way – it is a little early to know exactly what that means just yet.”
The Government had hoped to put a motion to the Commons authorising the use of military force, but had to back down after Labour leader Ed Miliband announced late on Wednesday that he would instruct his MPs to vote against it.
With a number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs also unwilling to back a strike, Labour’s stance raised the prospect of the Government losing the vote – forcing PM David Cameron into a humiliating climbdown.
But there was more disagreement to come, when Labour yesterday announced it would not support a new Government motion, even though it promised no action would be taken before the United Nations had considered the findings of a team of inspectors sent to Syria to investigate the chemical attack, and before a second vote in the Commons, which could take place next week.
Labour submitted its own amendment, backed by the Scottish National Party and Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, which stated explicitly that there should be no attack on Syria without a vote by the UN Security Council.
Despite the disagreement, there were reports last night that Parliament could be recalled as soon as this weekend – when David Cameron might ask MPs to back a military strike.
The Ministry of Defence announced that six RAF Typhoon jets have been deployed to Cyprus to protect UK interests and sovereign bases,
And the Government released documents designed to pave the way for an attack on Syria, including legal advice stating military action would be legal on humanitarian grounds, and a reoport by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which found that a chemical weapons attack did occur in Damascus last week, and that it is “highly likely” that Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible.
US President Barack Obama told an American television interviewer that a strike against Syria would deter future chemical attacks, saying the Syrian government “will have received a pretty strong signal that it better not do it again”.
The increasingly bitter divide between the Conservatives and Labour over recent days was ratcheted up further when sources in both camps lashed out as the debate took place.
A Tory source said yesterday: “What you heard today was the Prime Minister making a very compelling case about this appalling use of chemical weapons in Syria and you heard Ed Miliband flipping and flopping and completely unable to make up his mind.”
Labour sources condemned the “personal insults” from Government sources in the run-up to this afternoon’s debate.
According to one newspaper, a Government source said: “No 10 and the Foreign Office think Miliband is a f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***. The French hate him now and he’s got no chance of building an alliance with the US Democratic Party.”