David Cameron suffered a huge upset last night, after Britain’s House of Commons rejected his motion for military action in Syria.
Cameron appeared shocked by the outcome, as did many observers. He had good reason to be — it is extremely rare for the U.K. government to be defeated on such a matter. The last time this happened was 1782 when MPs refused to go on fighting Americans seeking to end colonial rule, effectively allowing the U.S. to become independent.
The big worry for Cameron is that the vote reflects a lack of confidence in his government (though it isn’t technically a vote of no confidence). The British press certainly seems to think it was bad:
Cameron is facing reelection in 2015, so this is a severe stumble.
Worse still, it’s something he could have easily avoided. Cameron was under no obligation to hold a vote on the subject — he could have used Royal Perogative to go to war without consulting parliament. He had recalled the House of Commons from their summer vacation early for the vote, most likely as Tony Blair had done the same before the Iraq War.
There’s another nasty historical precedent as well: After losing the 1782 vote, British Prime Minister Lord North resigned within a month.
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