The foreign secretary, William Hague, has accused Russia and China of “siding with a brutal regime” by vetoing a UN security council resolution calling on Syria to stop violence towards its own people.
Hague used his keynote speech at the Conservative party conference to describe the decision as “deeply mistaken and regrettable”.
He spoke out against the veto as he hailed the British government’s role in the Arab spring and called on governments in the Middle East and beyond to respond to public grievances with “dialogue and reform, not with repression”.
Focusing on the repression by President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime in Syria, he said: “Last night we and our European allies tabled a resolution in the UN security council calling on the Assad regime to stop the violence in Syria after months of utterly unacceptable killings, torture and abuses.
“The decision of Russia and China to veto this resolution, and to side with the brutal regime rather than with the people of Syria is deeply mistaken and regrettable.
“We will redouble our efforts to work with other nations to increase the pressure on the regime wherever we can, and assure the people of Syria that they will not be forgotten.”
Hague outlined Britain’s foreign policy under the coalition, which he said was built on giving the country the leadership it needs to “thrive as a confident, outward-looking, prosperous, bold nation”.
He praised David Cameron for showing the “steel and humanity” needed to support the people of Libya.
“When the hour of crisis came, our prime minister had the steel and the humanity to call for a no-fly zone when others doubted,” he said.
“Backed by the very best of British diplomacy, we secured what many said was impossible: an unequivocal UN security council resolution authorising military force, strong regional support from Arab nations and a military operation that was limited, legal, morally right and successful.”
He said “a new, bold and ambitious relationship” needed to be fostered with the countries of the Middle East and north Africa, in the EU, the UN and the G8 “so that, as they grow in freedom, they can join us in prosperity”.
As efforts to resolve the eurozone crisis continued, Hague told Conservative delegates the party had been right to warn that entering the euro would be a disaster and say that no more areas of power should be handed over to Europe.
“Thanks to the European Union Act 2011, by law that cannot happen without a referendum,” he said. “And we are just as right that the EU has no more power in our national life than it should, and I believe as strongly as I ever have that when the right moments come this party should set out to reduce it.”
Hague, a former hardline Eurosceptic, told the conference he had said 14 years ago that the eurozone would become a “burning building with no exits”.
But he said it was important to support the eurozone countries because they are “friends and neighbours”, but also because Britain’s prosperity and financial stability was tied to theirs.
“But we will never make the mistake of thinking that anyone else can be relied upon to stand up for the interests of Britain,” he added.
“We will continue to work closely with our European allies and in particular, in our defence treaties with France, we have forged the closest relationship with our neighbour since the second world war.”
But he added that Britain’s defence would continue to be “anchored in our unbreakable alliance with the United States and the primacy of Nato”, saying: “That is why when others proposed an EU military headquarters this summer, on behalf of the United Kingdom I vetoed it.”
On Afghanistan, Hague said the government would do all it could to promote reconciliation and governance in Afghanistan as Afghans increasingly take responsibility for their own security, with British forces preparing to wind down their role by 2014.