Did Philip Hammond stray off-message on Syria military action?

Philip Hammond's comments appeared to ruled out UK air strikes in Syria. Credit: PA

Did Philip Hammond misspeak or did he reveal the thinking at the highest levels of government on air strikes in Syria?

At a press conference in Germany earlier, the Foreign Secretary was asked very clearly if the UK would carry out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.

His reply was equally as clear: "Let me be clear, Britain will not be taking part in any air strikes in Syria, I can be very clear about that."

It appeared to contradict the "strategy" against the Islamic militants unveiled by President Obama last night.

The US announced it would consider air strikes against the group responsible for beheading two American journalists whether those strikes were in Iraq or in Syria.

The comments raised many eyebrows in Washington, where the White House strategy was barely 12 hours old.

Downing Street was forced to make a clarification a few minutes later.

"In terms of airpower, the Prime Minister has not ruled anything out, nor are we at the stage of taking decisions," said the Prime Minister's official spokesman.

Clearly, the are different legal and military problems with strikes in Syria - the country against which British MPs ruled out military action last year.

By contrast, in Iraq, the new government in Baghdad has requested outside help with air strikes against the IS.

A Foreign Office source suggested Mr Hammond should have inserted the word "regime" in his statement to make clear he was only ruling out strikes against President Assad in Syria not against Islamic State militants in Syria.