The shock defeat of the Government’s motion on Syria left politicians reeling. Indeed, defence secretary Philip Hammond momentarily seemed to forget which dictator they wanted to attack.
Speaking to Newsnight after the vote, the minister twice referred to deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, instead of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Hammond spoke of “deterring Saddam Hussein from further use of chemical weapons,” going on to say the vote indicated “Britain should not take part in any action against Saddam Hussein.”
It was not Hammond’s only controversial statement of the night. Earlier in the evening, he accused opponents of “giving succour to [Assad’s] regime.”
The gaffe is especially unfortunate, as continuing mistrust from the Iraq War is seen as contributing to the Government’s defeat. In the run up to that conflict, intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction galvanised the decision to invade. The intelligence turned out to be false, and no weapons were found.
UN weapons inspectors are currently establishing whether chemical weapons have been used against the Syrian people. The Government’s reworked motion would have committed the UK in principle to an armed response, following a second vote on the UN’s findings.
Twitter users were quick to pounce on Hammond’s mistake, but he was not alone in swapping the two dictators. Speaking on Radio 4 earlier, newsreader John Humphreys also substituted ‘Saddam’ for Assad.