May denies orders from Washington on airstrikes
LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has defended her decision to join airstrikes by the U.S. and France in Syria and insisted that she did not do so on the “instruction” of Donald Trump.
Addressing the House of Commons for the first time since authorizing airstrikes over the weekend, May laid out the government’s rationale and fended off criticism of her decision not to put the decision to a parliamentary vote.
Some opposition Labour MPs were cheered as they praised May for bombing Syria, while Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn was attacked from his backbenches for turning a blind eye to those responsible for gassing children.
The Labour leader was left isolated as his own MPs mocked him for criticizing May for ordering airstrikes following a chemical weapons attack near Damascus. Corbyn will put pressure on the government to seek the permission of MPs before future deployments of the armed forces in a debate Tuesday.
But May made it clear she would bomb Syria again if it used chemical weapons and would not feel the need to seek Parliament’s permission to do so.
On Monday, it emerged that Trump favoured bombing Russian and Iranian targets in Syria using three times the firepower that was eventually deployed before he was talked out of it by James Mattis, the United States president’s defence secretary.
May addressed Parliament for the first time since Saturday’s cruise missile strike, setting out her reasons for taking action before answering questions from 140 MPs.
Asked if she would do the same again if Syria committed further outrages, an unrepentant May said: “Nobody should be in any doubt of our resolve to ensure that we cannot see a situation where the use of chemical weapons is normalized.”
“I set out the basis of which we took this decision and I recognize the importance of Parliament, but it’s also important that the government is able to act, and there will always be circumstances in which it is important to act without that debate having taken place in Parliament,” she added.
Corbyn was greeted with angry shouts of “shame!” when he told MPs: “The prime minister is accountable to this Parliament, not to the whims of the U.S. president.”
Corbyn once again suggested Syrian President Bashar Assad might be innocent of the chemical attack as “other groups” could have carried it out, and said the airstrikes were “legally questionable.”