With the escalation of the Syrian crisis and our possible involvement with it, last week was a momentous one for Parliament and I dare say for the country as a whole.
The apparent attack on civilians using chemical weapons which took place on 21 August was seized upon by the pro-war faction in an attempt to involve our country in a military attack on Syria.
When Parliament was recalled for, we were to be presented with a motion authorising just such an attack.
I and several other like-minded Conservative MPs took every opportunity to express our opposition to the Prime Minister, and he listened to the back-benchers.
The Prime Minister offered us another motion and guaranteed that a second vote would be held before any military action was taken.
Because this new first motion kept open the possibility of war, I refused to vote for it. But since the Prime Minister had compromised with us by guaranteeing a second vote, I decided to abstain rather than to vote against.
I cannot be clear enough: I will not vote for war against Syria. It is clear that we have no business intervening militarily in a civil war in a country which 1) was never a British colony, 2) has never been in Britain’s sphere of influence, 3) in which no British lives or interests are threatened, and 4) which makes no threat of seizing, invading, or attacking British territory.
Such a war would achieve very little while risking very much. The possibility of international escalation, given that Russia has a naval port in Syria, is quite strong, and that is a risk we must take seriously.
There is also the danger that such actions would help the jihadist rebels who are fighting against Assad. Christians and other religious minorities have been protected by the current regime in Syria, and its downfall, especially if aided by Western countries, could provoke a backlash against Christians across the Middle East.
As it happens, voters voiced to representatives their deeply felt resistance to war, the MPs listened, and the Prime Minister’s motion was voted down.
In short: much to our surprise, the system worked. General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, put it best when he called this “a victory for democracy and common sense”.
We are tired of war in this country. We know it is sometimes necessary but we suspect we’ve been lied to in the past and we won’t stand for that again.
There are numerous diplomatic options for ending the civil war in Syria that are still on the table and need to be explored.
We should be prepared to provide whatever humanitarian relief we can to those affected by this disastrous war. But we should not go around to other countries, bombing them and telling them what to do.
We wouldn’t put up with it if someone tried to do that to us; we shouldn’t expect Syrians to react any differently. Peace is still possible.
Sir Edward Leigh
MP for Gainsborough