Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the UK has decided to recognise the Syrian opposition coalition.
He told MPs the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.
He said they were now a “credible” alternative to the Assad government.
In the absence of a diplomatic solution, he told MPs the UK would not rule out any action - subject to international law - to save lives.
Up to 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month conflict, the UK believes.
Those trying to bring down President Bashar al-Assad’s government moved closer to a united front when the rival leaders of Syria’s rebels formed the coalition after months of bitter division.
Britain is taking bolder steps in trying to stop Syria’s endless bloodshed, authorizing officials to have direct contact with the country’s rebels.
“This will help us to understand better the situation in Syria and the relationship between political and armed opposition groups so we can properly support political transition,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement Wednesday.
Hague said that officials from his office “will make every effort” to ensure they are engaging only with legitimate members of the opposition and that any contact will take place outside Syria.
The news comes a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron broached the idea of giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “safe passage” if that’s what it takes to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
“Anything, anything, to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria,” Cameron told Al-Arabiya TV…
Britain was under pressure to withdraw diplomatic recognition of Syria and close its London embassy on Sunday after Arab League states called for ties to be severed with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, was forced to defend the presence of Syrian diplomats in London after Tunisia issued a call for Syria’s isolation and protesters clashed with police outside the mission in London.
The Belgrave Square building was behind a heavy police cordon yesterday after violent protests on Saturday morning led to several policemen being injured and six arrests.
The Government said any Arab League action to isolate Damascus would “weigh very heavily” in its considerations but that no decision had been taken to cut ties.
Britain maintains an embassy in Damascus as a “useful” source of information inside the country but has reduced staff numbers for safety reasons.
“We constantly review our diplomatic relations,” Mr Hague said. “We haven’t taken any decision to sever our relations.”
Diplomats told a UN committee that Britain would formally abstain in any vote, expected later this year. France, like Britain a permanent and veto-holding member of the UN security council, and Colombia, a current member, said the same.
The decision has no practical effect as the United States has already indicated it will veto the bid. But a vote in favour by major powers like Britain and France would have been a triumph for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
It would also have marked a significant step-change in Britain’s attitude to Israel, which has already become much more critical since the Coalition took power last year.
Britain has come under intense pressure from both sides in the heated debate over the vote, which has been pushed by Mr Abbas since he pulled out of direct negotiations with Israel over its settlement-building policies.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, has been among the loudest voices condemning Israeli policies, most recently when the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, approved more settlements and suspended the handing over of tax receipts to the Palestinian authorities in retaliation for their successful application to join UNESCO as a full member.