Francis Maude: Britain must not slide towards isolation

Horsham MP Francis Maude
Horsham MP Francis Maude

The House of Commons is sitting again this week after the summer recess. Yes MPs take holidays, as I did; but also spend time on constituency matters. For me, Balcombe and exploratory drilling for oil bulked fairly large in my August.

And of course we came back to Westminster for a day last Thursday. Parliament was recalled to debate the chemical weapons attack on civilians in Damascus, and a possible military response. It now seems clear that well over 1,000 people died in this attack, including several hundred children. Many more suffered horrific injuries. It is clear beyond reasonable doubt that this attack was carried out by the tyrannous Assad regime.

As we now know, the House of Commons voted against the government’s motion. It was a motion that committed us to nothing. It made clear that there would be a further vote before any military action was taken. The Prime Minister made clear that there would be no military on the ground in Syria; that all that was contemplated was a limited air strike aimed to suppress and deter the future use of chemical weapons. The motion before the Commons was framed in the way it was specifically to address the concerns set out by the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. Despite all of that, the government narrowly failed to secure a majority; and as a result Britain will expect to play no part in any action.

This undoubtedly reflects the state of public opinion, if my post bag is typical. Many of the public, and many in Parliament, believe this is not ‘our fight’. After Iraq they are sceptical of intelligence reports. Many do not believe military involvement can be limited to air strikes.

I disagree. I believe that the use of chemical weapons is an egregious evil; indiscriminate and horrendous in its effects. The world has hitherto been united in its revulsion at their use. If dictators such as Assad use them with impunity then there is nothing to deter him or others from using them in future.

But I have a wider concern. That is that Britain must be wary of sliding towards isolation. Britain is at its best a country that counts for more in the world than our size would suggest. I’m a Eurosceptic not because I’m a little Englander but because I think Britain’s horizons should not be bounded by Europe’s frontiers. We sit at the intersection of much of the international structures: the Commonwealth, Europe, the Atlantic relationship, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. And I’m proud that we have a Prime Minister who understands that, and who gives strong leadership to act on what he believes to be right.