Syria crisis: Downing St tries to get back on side with US
We still back you, says message from Number 10 as American plans more punitive strikes on Syria
DOWNING STREET this morning sent out a message via Foreign Secretary William Hague calling for the civil war in Syria to be brought to a decisive end for humanitarian reasons, suggesting Britain will give full diplomatic support - if not military aid - to American strikes on President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons stockpiles.
Parliament may have refused military help, but we still stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the States, the message appears to be saying.
It comes amid reports from Washington that Barack Obama is considering a much heavier US-led assault on the Assad regime than previously expected. The President is said to have briefed US congressmen that he is planning punitive strikes to tilt the balance decisively in favour of the rebels.
Hague's message was issued on Prime Minister David Cameron's Twitter account: "1 year ago: 230,000 Syrian refugees. Today: 2,000,000. 1/2 children. If we don't end the conflict, think what the figure could be next year."
The tweet is referring to new figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees which show that the number of Syrians fleeing the conflict has now passed 2m. "Syria has become the great tragedy of this century - a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history," said Antonio Guterres, head of the commission.
Intervention on humanitarian grounds is now permitted by the UN under the "R2P" protocol - Responsibility to Protect - established at the UN in 2005. It embodied the doctrine of "liberal interventionism" - giving legal cover for nations to attack other sovereign nations to stop suffering.
Hague was one of the most hawkish of Cameron's cabinet ministers in favour of military action in Syria and was furious at the refusal of MPs to back the action last Thursday, though he has denied threatening to resign as a result.
Cameron interpreted the Commons defeat as a veto on any British military action against Syria - whatever the cost to the Special Relationship with the United States.
According to The Times today, the damage can already be counted. British military chiefs have been ejected from the detailed planning meetings regarding Syria at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, that they would normally attend. The paper quotes one US officer saying Britain is now "non-reliable as far as this operation is concerned".
That is the sort of snub that will have riled Cameron and Hague. They are now forced to sit impotently on the sidelines as, day by day, the sabre-rattling between Washington and Damascus grows more warlike.
Hence Downing Street's attempt to repair the damage by giving Obama in advance Britain's diplomatic cover for the forthcoming US air strikes if they are sanctioned by Congress.
It's not just the White House that needs pacifying - more and more senior Tories are making it clear that they want the chance of a second Commons vote on military action.
Despite yesterday's clear message from the Prime Minister's spokesman that "Parliament has spoken" and there was no chance of military intervention, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs later that they could be asked to vote again on action in Syria - if circumstances changed "very significantly".
Another hawk, Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who was reported to have verbally attacked Labour and Tory rebels after the vote, admitted that he had blown his top over the defeat.
"I did become heated [after the vote], that's absolutely right," he told BBC News.
"At the moment the Government lost the vote on the motion there were Labour MPs cheering as though it were a football match and they'd just won, and at the same time on the news we were hearing about an attack on a school in Syria.
"The death toll there was rising and the incongruity of Labour MPs celebrating as children had been killed by a ruthless dictator got to me and I did feel incredibly emotional, I do feel incredibly emotional about this subject."
Gove and Hammond will be encouraged by a YouGov poll for The Times which found that half the respondents would approve of a second Commons debate if the UN confirms that the Assad regime has deployed chemical weapons. Some 36 per cent believe that Cameron should re-run the vote if the US Congress approves military action.