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Sitting this one out: What the Syria vote means for Britain and our place in the world

The vote represents a massive change in our view of ourselves, our place in the world and our priorities. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA

The bitterness about last week's vote continues to fester between our political leaders and their staff here at Westminster.

Unrepeatable things are said in private and few of them are enjoying watching our global allies preparing to step forward without us.

The history of modern interventions has been redolent, after all, with the part we have played; Bosnia (eventually), Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya…

We have been a classic internationally-minded post-Imperial power intent on exporting our ideas and influence to the world. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

I suppose you could say that we sat out the whole of the Vietnam War and some of the other defining developments of the Cold War, but the truth is that for the last half century we have been a classic internationally-minded post-Imperial power intent on exporting our ideas and influence to the world.

For a nation of our size, we have rather a large military budget and a seat on the UN Security Council. We have always been a global player.

But perhaps no longer.

There may have been some party politics involved, but the primary reason David Cameron does not want to bring this issue back to another vote is that there are a significant number of people in the governing coalition who have made it clear they do not wish to get involved in other people's wars.

To put it another way, they are quite content to be more like Norway. Or Sweden. Or Germany.

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Now that is a perfectly legitimate point of view. You might even say there is a certain logic to it. But there are two things we can clearly say about it:

  • It represents a massive change in our view of ourselves and our place in the world
  • If taken to its logical conclusion, it has all kinds of implications, including serious questions about the size of our military budget, our spending priorities and even our seat at the UN

So for the time being, it does seem likely that we are going to sit this one out. And I think you can expect the debate on what that means to run and run.

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