Simon Hughes' Vote on Syria

Simon Hughes
September 03, 2013

As a Liberal and Liberal Democrat over many years I have long taken an interest in the middle east and been active whenever I can in seeking to advance peace and justice in the region. Sadly, I have not been to Syria, in spite of having had plans to do so a few years ago. Like others I am pained by the suffering the current civil war is causing, and have been very frustrated by the failure of initiatives so far to bring the conflict to a peaceful and just conclusion. My Liberal principles have also made it very important to me that Britain is active in international affairs in conflict prevention and conflict resolution, and I was one of the founding chairs a few years ago of the All-Party Group on Conflict Issues here in Parliament. I therefore have strongly supported the Geneva Protocol which for nearly a hundred years have outlawed the use of chemical weapons in war and have strongly supported the United Nations as the best route for international initiatives - although sometimes international action is legally justified without United Nations agreement.

Every international conflict is of course different. In my view, for example, intervention in Sierra Leone and Kosovo was justified. The invasion of Iraq was not. Indeed I spoke clearly against military action in Iraq and voted accordingly, as did all my Liberal Democrat colleagues.

Since the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21st August, in what was the most extensive of a series of chemical weapons attacks in the country over recent years, I have been working with my parliamentary colleagues to try to make sure that we as a country did not just turn away from this atrocity but responded in the most effective way possible. I therefore supported the recall of the House of Commons and participated throughout the debate, including my intervention calling on the Prime Minister to push for the maximum United Nations and diplomatic activity to start peace talks, ideally with full Russian participation.

The motion eventually negotiated by the government, and after input from me and others including the leader of the opposition, specifically addressed the three greatest concerns I had and which had been made most strongly to me in emails I received from my constituents:

  • Maximum attempts to obtain United Nations agreement
  • No decision or action until the UN weapons inspection team returned from Syria and reported to the United Nations
  • Any military action in the future to be legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of chemical weapons, and only if the House of Commons votes in favour.

I listened carefully to the opposition leader moving the Labour amendment which set out the six conditions they wished to be met before military action is taken, and I heard him clearly say that Labour also did not rule out military action either.

Having heard the Prime Minister and the Labour leader and looked carefully at the motion and the one selected amendment, I believed that all the major concerns expressed on both sides of the House by those who do not rule out military action in all circumstances were met to a similar extent by both sets of wording. I therefore supported the government motion rather than the Labour amendment.

Just to make it clear, my vote was neither a vote for military action or rushed intervention in Syria.

As far as I'm concerned, I voted to follow proper process and act within international law, but without turning away from responsibility to respond to the atrocities of last week and earlier occasions when chemical weapons were used.

In my own party as well as across my constituency and across the country I know that there will be different judgements and views on this subject and how best to end chemical weapon attacks in Syria and bring the conflict to an end most quickly. As soon as possible - in Syria, as in Israel and Palestine and Egypt - there will need to be political solutions. I assure you I will continue to work both in my party and in Parliament, with government colleagues and members of other parties and with the All-Party Conflict Issues Group and other organisations to increase the chances of peace and justice at the earliest possible opportunity.


PN member Simon Hughes is a member of the United Kingdom's House of Commons. He currently sits as President of the Liberal Democrats and is Shadow Leader of the House. 

Originally published on

Photo by Liberal Democrats.

Read stories from: