Defence Questions this afternoon was, as you might expect, a rather chippy affair. It seemed that whenever Philip Hammond rose to answer a question, he answered it by reminding the Labour MP asking it of their party’s decision to oppose the government’s motion on Syria. Nowhere was this more the case than in the Defence Secretary’s exchange with Jim Murphy, where both men set out some interesting wriggle room in their party positions on a second vote.
Here is the full text of the exchange, including Hammond’s answer to Gisela Stuart in which he explained the circumstances of a second vote:
Gisela Stuart: Given that the situation in Syria is likely to or most likely to deteriorate or certainly change, could he tell the House why the vote last Thursday, when in essence the House did not agree to two motions, should not be revisited in the future?
Philip Hammond: Well Mr Speaker, as the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary have already made clear, this is a democracy, Parliament has spoken, and we take it that Parliament has spoken very clearly. And we cannot keep coming back to Parliament with the same question. I think that the circumstances would have to change very significantly before Parliament would want to look again at this issue.
Jim Murphy: I want to return to the issue raised by my honourable friend from Edgbaston. On Thursday after the vote the Prime Minister ruled out UK involvement in military action in Syria. The government of course will remain engaged diplomatically and on aid policy. But will the Secretary of State spell out for the House in what if any circumstances – if changes in Syria or internationally – that the government would bring back to Parliament the issue of UK military involvement in Syria? [loud groans from the Tory benches].
Philip Hammond: Well Mr Speaker, if I may say so, it’s a bit rich for the right honourable gentleman, who last week trooped into the lobbies behind his leader giving rise to the very situation that we now find ourselves in to demand that I tell him precisely in which circumstances we might revisit this issue. I’ve said already to the right honourable lady we believe that Parliament has spoken clearly on this issue and is unlikely to want to revisit it unless the circumstances change very significantly.
Ben Bradshaw was given similar short shrift when he asked a similar question about the need for a second vote with more evidence for MPs to make up their mind on the case for intervention. It was clear that the right wing of the Labour party at least doesn’t see last Thursday’s defeat as the end of the story on Britain’s role in the Syrian conflict. But the question is whether the Labour leadership wants to really set out a position on intervention.
Either way, Labour does risk looking like a baby who can’t decide whether he wants milk, crying at one point and refusing at another, by having opposed last week’s motion and now dropping big hints that it wants another vote. The case that Murphy, Bradshaw and other colleagues make on Parliament being rushed into making a decision on intervention would have more currency if Parliament had actually voted on intervention last week. It didn’t: the motion from the government – rewritten as a result of Labour demands - said there was a ‘sound legal basis for taking action’, and that ‘before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place’.Tags: Defence, Jim Murphy, Labour, Philip Hammond, Syria, UK politics