EU Council and Woolwich

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Surely the Prime Minister must accept that Britain’s insistence on Europe opening the door to more arms entering that ugly arena in Syria has led to two consequences. The first is the Russian escalation, with its introduction of S-300 missiles into the arena. The second is the near collapse, if not the actual collapse, of the vital international peace conference. The alternative is not inaction, as the Prime Minister has implied; it is serious negotiation to get the conference off the ground without preconditions, without insisting that Assad must go, which would stop the conference, and without insisting that Iran should stay out of the negotiations, which would also render the process stillborn.

The Prime Minister: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion I have to disagree with him on both counts. First, it is completely wrong to pretend that Russia has changed its view of Syria or its supply of arms to that country because of the European Union’s decision. Russia has been supplying the Syrian regime with arms for decades, and it has done so during this conflict. To suggest otherwise is really quite naive. I fully support the idea of the peace conference, which is why I flew to see President Putin on the Black sea and why I held discussions with Barack Obama. We should do everything we can to bring the parties together at this peace conference, but I would put the question again: are we more likely to get some sort of compliance from President Assad at a peace conference that would result in a transitional government if he believes that he cannot win militarily? That is the question that we have to put to ourselves.