Syria vote: has Britain just redefined its role in the world?
US Special Relationship up in the air as Britain withholds military support for first time since Vietnam
THE government's shock defeat in the House of Commons over military action in Syria has left David Cameron's authority in tatters and sent a message to our allies - particularly the US - that Britain is not prepared to go to war again for the foreseeable future.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, told Radio 4's Today programme: "I think there will be national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system."
He defended Cameron, saying no other prime minister would have consulted Parliament. He played down the impact on US-UK relations, saying: "There's been a lot of hyperbole. In the contact between the White House and Downing Street overnight there has been a lot of understanding that we are a democracy and we have our issues."
The motion to sanction an attack in principle was defeated by 13 votes, with 30 Tories and 13 Lib Dems voting with Labour against the government. Cameron was forced to rule out any military action against the Assad regime in Damascus, saying: "British parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly."
His failure to persuade even his own MPs to back his plan to give military support to the Americans has plunged the coalition government into a crisis of confidence and raised questions about Britain's tradition of punching above its weight as a global power.
If the US goes ahead with its planned strikes against Syria, it will be the first time since Vietnam under Harold Wilson that Britain has refused to support the US in a major military adventure, raising inevitable questions about the so-called Special Relationship. The Obama administration may now have to rely on Socialist France for military support from Europe.
As the shock of the vote began to sink in, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight: "I don't think it is anything to do with the Prime Minister. It is to do with the legacy of the Iraq war.
"Just as it took the American people years to get over Vietnam, it is going to take many years for the British people to get over the trauma of what happened in Iraq."
Hammond admitted it would put "strains" on the Special Relationship. He said it signalled that Britain was possibly becoming a different country. "I do have a concern about what we are saying about ourselves. We have to ask ourselves, 'Do we want to be the kind of nation to uphold the rule of international law that benefits us as a democratic nation or are we going to leave that to others?' I do hope Britain is not going to retreat into being the kind of nation that is not prepared to act."
But Tory MP Crispin Blunt, explaining this morning why he and 29 others rebelled, said he would be delighted "if we relieve ourselves of some of those imperial pretensions".
What makes last night's defeat worse for Cameron is that it was a self-inflicted blow that raises serious doubts about his judgment and his authority over his own party. Cameron had recalled Parliament a week early from its summer recess to sanction the US-led strikes. It has resulted in Cameron being accused of being a "broken-backed" prime minister.
Cameron's position is unprecedented, and seriously diminished. Prime Ministers who cannot get a Budget through the Commons are forced to resign. Questions are certain to be raised next week when MPs return to the Commons about his ability to carry on if he cannot take Britain to war. ·