UK government denies dropping plans for vote on Syria air strikes

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 02, 2015 7:21 PM

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron has not dropped plans to seek parliamentary support to bomb Islamist militants in Syria, a source in his office said after reports that he had done so.

Several newspapers said on Tuesday he had abandoned the plans after failing to get enough backing. They also cited the fact Russia's move to support Assad by bombing Islamic State militants in Syria had complicated the picture.

Cameron has said he wants to do more to tackle IS. Keen to avoid a repeat of his 2013 defeat over air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, he has been trying to build cross-party support for extending strikes to Syria from Iraq.

He has a slim majority in parliament and, with some of his own Conservatives opposed to expanding strikes, he needs to win support from the opposition Labour Party now led by anti-war campaigner Jeremy Corbyn.

However a source in Cameron's office rejected the reports. "He has consistently said that we would only go back to the House (of Commons) on this issue if there was clear consensus and that remains the case," the source said.

"Meanwhile, the government continues to work to bring the conflict to an end in Syria and we are working closely with our allies to inject greater momentum into efforts to find a political solution."

In France, President Francois Hollande said Paris would continue its air strikes in Syria and would hold a defence council meeting to discuss the matter on Thursday.

"Every time we have information on training camps where there are jihadists, terrorists, who could at some point threaten our country, we strike," he told Europe 1 radio.

The reports about Cameron's plans came as an influential committee of lawmakers warned Britain should not extend its air strikes into Syria until there is a coherent international strategy with a "realistic" chance of defeating the militants.

"In the absence of such a strategy, taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent," parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report published on Tuesday.

The committee, chaired by a parliamentarian from Cameron's ruling Conservative Party, said the government should not seek parliamentary approval until it gives details of its plans.

It called on the government to explain how British involvement would improve the chances of the international coalition's success, warned about the legal ambiguity of taking action without a U.N. Security Council Resolution and asked which ground forces would support Britain's air effort.

Committee chair Crispin Blunt said there was now an "alarming range" of international actors involved in Iraq and Syria and there was no expectation that British intervention in Syria would be militarily decisive.

"These forces desperately need coordinating into a coherent strategy and that is where our efforts should be focused," he said.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)