A grim-faced Cameron conceded after the vote that “the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action.”
The prime minister said that while he still believed in a “tough response” to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime, he would respect the will of Parliament.
Responding to the vote, the White House said that a decision on a possible military strike against Syria will be guided by America’s best interests, suggesting the U.S. may act alone if other nations won’t help.
The defeat was as dramatic as it was unexpected. At the start of the week, Cameron had seemed poised to join Washington in possible military action against Assad. The suspected chemical weapons attacks took place Aug. 21 in suburbs east and west of Damascus. The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders has said the strikes killed 355 people.
Gruesome images of sickened men, women and children writhing on the floor drew outrage from across the world, and Cameron recalled Parliament from its summer break for an emergency vote, which was widely seen as a prelude to international action.
“The video footage illustrates some of the most sickening human suffering imaginable,” Cameron told lawmakers before the vote, arguing that the most dangerous thing to do was to “stand back and do nothing.”
But the push for strikes against the Syrian regime began to lose momentum as questions were raised about the intelligence underpinning the move. During a debate with lawmakers, he conceded that there was still a sliver of uncertainty about whether Assad truly was behind the attacks.
“In the end there is no 100 percent certainty about who is responsible,” Cameron said, although he insisted that officials were still as “as certain as possible” that Assad’s forces were responsible.