The British vote against military strikes in Syria is a tough blow to Prime Minister David Cameron’s domestic political fortunes.
Since taking office in 2010, he has on numerous occasions been undercut not just from opposition parties, but also from elements within both his own Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, the junior member of the UK’s governing coalition.
That was the combination that once again hurt Cameron late Thursday. The government lost a vote—by a tally of 285 to 272—that would have supported in principle military intervention in Syria. Members of all major parties—including his own Tories—opposed the measure.
Mr. Cameron said it is clear that the British Parliament, reflecting the view of the British people, doesn’t want to see the UK get involved in military action and “the government will act accordingly.”
The outcome marks a significant moment in British politics—it is highly unusual for a prime minister to be defeated on foreign policy and raises the prospect of whether the UK’s role on the world stage going forward.
It is also a rare setback for Anglo-American relations that will spur questions about the so-called “special relationship” between the two nations. In recent decades, the UK. has rarely if ever parted ways with the US on such a significant strategic issue.
While the government doesn’t require parliamentary approval to take military action, it would now be politically difficult to do so. A further parliamentary vote had been due to take place early next week on whether the UK should be directly involved in that action. A spokesman for the prime minister confirmed that the UK now won’t take part in the Syrian action.
The outcome of the UK. vote could make it more difficult for President Barack Obama and other Western allies—already weary from years of difficult military intervention in the Middle East—to convince their own publics of the need for intervention in Syria.
The defense secretary, Philip Hammond, said America “will be disappointed that Britain won’t be involved.” Mr. Hammond, speaking in an interview with BBC, said he still expected other countries to continue to look at a response.
The setback also raises questions about Cameron’s authority. The prime minister, who wasn’t required to hold a parliamentary vote but chose to, had personally laid out his case at length to parliament earlier in the day about why military action was needed and why it would be justified, citing humanitarian grounds and the need to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the future.
US officials said Mr. Obama is prepared to act in coming days without Britain. They added that unlike U.S. involvement in the 2011 military operations in Libya, the options being considered in Syria are on a smaller scale and wouldn’t require a coalition to be effective.
Britain’s about turn leaves France as the last European country still considering conducting air attacks on the Assad regime. French officials have said the country’s military had prepared plans for possible action in Syria but repeated on Thursday that no final decision had been made yet.
The French government can engage force overseas without prior Parliamentary approval.