MP: Why I supported the Government over Syria

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Rugby MP Mark Pawsey has made a statement explaining his decision to back the Government on last night’s motion on the principle on military action to protect Syrian civilians.

The Government lost the motion by 272 votes for to 285 votes against after 30 Conservative MPs voted against David Cameron, with 33 abstaining. The vote means that there will be no British military involvement in the Syrian civil war.

In his statement, the full version of which is below, Mr Pawsey acknowledged there was little or no public appetite for British military involvement, adding that war with Syria was not something he wanted either. He said that his position was “dependent on being assured that as broad a coalition as possible is being assembled, that there is clear evidence available to support action and that international law is on our side”.

He added: “Each generation of constituents has its own reasons for not wishing to get involved. This leads many people to conclude that we should do nothing. For my part, I believe that doing nothing is not an option.”

He explained: “Along with many members here today I have visited Rwanda where I saw the effect of the 1994 genocide. I often talk about my visits when I visit schools and when on these visits I have difficulty answering the question; ‘why didn’t the world do something?’

“If we do nothing and, as seems a likely consequence, the violence in Syria escalates, I don’t want to have a similar difficulty in a answering the question, “You were in parliament in 2013 and why didn’t you do something?”

“I accept the argument that doing nothing gives a green light for Assad to do the same again to his own people and for more such atrocities to take place.”

His statement concluded: “I share my constituent’s fears of unforeseen consequences and the dangers of getting dragged into conflict, but I believe that it is vitally important to send the message that no one should be able to get away with the kind of atrocity that we have seen recently in Syria. I will therefore be supporting the Government.”

Mr Pawsey’s statement in full:

“In my remarks I want to concentrate on public opinion, our constituents, the people who sent us here. Through the number of e-mails arriving in our inboxes, through talking to people in the street, and through many surveys throughout the media, it is clear that the public have many concerns about any possible involvement in Syria and, in particular, there is little or no appetite for military action.

“However it is very important for people in the country to understand what we’re debating today. Earlier today the Prime Minister made it clear in opening the debate that today is not about military action. There will be a further debate and vote before any such action can take place. My support for the government’s motion today is dependent on that further debate and vote taking place and along with other MPs I will welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s confirmation of that in his summing up at the close of the debate this evening.

“Today, instead, we are considering about how we here in the UK should respond to a clear breach of international law which has led to appalling war crimes committed by a government against its people and which has been described in vivid terms by many members today. We are also considering the crossing of a red line set out by the President of the United States. That these are the matters under consideration today is not fully appreciated across the country.

“Indeed in the last hour I have had a tweet from a constituent telling me that he hopes that his MP realises that the majority don’t want to go to war with Syria. I certainly don’t want to go to war with Syria and no-one here in this chamber today wants to go to war. Furthermore the authority to start such a war is not an option available to the house tonight. But this tweet shows how people today believe that this is a power of the house and it also shows how people fear the consequences of military involvement. It is easy for us to understand why that might be the case. In this debate we’ve heard from many members about the loss of trust between the electorate and politicians in respect of any case the executive may make for military action. This arises as a consequence of the experience ten years ago in connection with the decision to take action against Iraq. It’s quite understandable for the electorate to be wary of military action and this concern exists across all generations but, I believe for different reasons.

“The generation that lived through world War two has been the most vocal in its opposition and no one who lived through the period 1939 to 1945 was unaffected by conflict. My generation - I was born in 1957- lived for 25 years in peace with no major action by British forces until the Falklands campaign of 1982. The generation born after the Falklands has seen British forces involved in conflict as the “new normal” having lived through the action in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Libya. Each generation has its own reasons for not wishing to get involved. This leads many people to conclude that we should do nothing. For my part, I believe that doing nothing is not an option.

“Along with many members here today I have visited Rwanda where I saw the effect of the 1994 genocide. I often talk about my visits when I visit schools and when on these visits I have difficulty answering the question; “why didn’t the world do something?” If we do nothing and, as seems a likely consequence, the violence in Syria escalates, I don’t want to have a similar difficulty in a answering the question, “You were in parliament in 2013 and why didn’t you do something?” I accept the argument that doing nothing gives a green light for Assad to do the same again to his own people and for more such atrocities to take place.

“However my support is dependent on being assured that as broad a coalition as possible is being assembled, that there is clear evidence available to support action and that international law is on our side. All of this should be brought forward in a future debate. I share my constituent’s fears of unforeseen consequences and the dangers of getting dragged into conflict, but I believe that it is vitally important to send the message that no one should be able to get away with the kind of atrocity that we have seen recently in Syria. I will therefore be supporting the government tonight.”