MP's give nervous backing to military action in Libya

By staff writers
22 Mar 2011

British parliamentarians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the government's military action in Iraq, but with many expressing serious misgivings.

The vote after the debate was 557 for the armed action against Colonel Gaddafi's forces, with 13 opposed. Eleven Labour MPs, one Conservative and one Green voted against.

Many others backed Prime Minister Mr Cameron, who promised “no regime change, no occupying force” - but with marked caution and reservations.

The UK government has refused to say categorically that Britain will not commit ground troops, and there is a growing row over whether "targeting Gaddafi" - which most say would be illegal under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 - is part of the plan.

The government was officially supported by the Labour opposition (whose leader, Ed Miliband, endorsed "liberal interventionism") and by their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

But it was the expressions of concern that were most notable in the six-hour debate, say reporters.

Asked Conservative MP John Baron: "What is the end game? No-one really knows."

Scottish National Party Westminster leader Angus Robertson expressed concern about the "potential for mission creep".

Former Labour defence minister Bob Ainsworth admitted that he was "reluctant and late" in his support, and warned the House of Commons that he was "somewhat concerned by the degree of enthusiasm" among some sections of the media, the public, and the Commons for getting involved in "yet another operation abroad".

Labour MP Dennis Skinner said to the prime minister: "It is easy to get into a war; it is harder to end it. When will we know what the circumstances are for pulling out and ending the war?"

Another veteran Labour MP, David Winnick, declared: "Many innocent people are going to be killed or slaughtered - whatever word you're are going to use - because it can't otherwise be the situation."

Meanwhile, on BBC2's 'Newsnight' television programme, Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, refused several times to answer a direct question from interviewer Jeremy Paxman about whether the UN resolution entitles the Western powers to remove Colonel Gaddafi

Pressed he said that the British government would "act within the parameters of the resolution" without specifying what those were in practical terms.

The question of removing Colonel Gaddafi was a matter of "operational details", he suggested.

[Ekk/3]

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