Chem­i­cal weapons prompted UK to act, says May

The National - News - - NEWS - DAMIEN McELROY

British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May yes­ter­day blamed Syria’s per­sis­tent pat­tern of chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks as she de­fended British par­tic­i­pa­tion in the week­end strikes, be­fore putting the is­sue to a par­lia­men­tary vote.

Speak­ing to MPs, the prime min­is­ter was try­ing to face down a re­volt led by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Cor­byn, to as­sert the right of par­lia­ment to ap­prove over­seas mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Mrs May faced a mood sig­nif­i­cantly changed from that in 2013, when the House of Com­mons re­buffed David Cameron’s at­tempt to join Barack Obama’s pro­posed in­ter­ven­tion against a poi­son gas at­tack in Syria.

The British vote dealt a killer blow to the ini­tia­tive and Mr Obama aban­doned his red lines against chem­i­cal weapons use in Syria.

“We are con­fi­dent in our own as­sess­ment that the Syr­ian regime was highly likely re­spon­si­ble for this at­tack and that its per­sis­tent pat­tern of be­hav­iour meant that it was highly likely to con­tinue us­ing chem­i­cal weapons,” Mrs May said.

“Fur­ther­more, there were clearly at­tempts to block any proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion, as we saw with the Rus­sian veto at the UN ear­lier in the week.”

The govern­ment said its de­ci­sion was driven by fear of more at­tacks and re­lied on the doc­trine of hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion in re­sponse to a state at­tack­ing its own peo­ple.

“We can­not wait to al­le­vi­ate fur­ther hu­man­i­tar­ian suf­fer­ing caused by chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks,” Mrs May said. “‘It is in our na­tional in­ter­est to pre­vent the fur­ther use of

chem­i­cal weapons in Syria, and to up­hold and de­fend the global con­sen­sus that these weapons should not be used.

“For we can­not al­low the use of chem­i­cal weapons to be­come nor­malised – ei­ther within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”

One of Mr Cor­byn’s key le­gal ad­vis­ers, Shami Chakrabarti, said Mrs May’s doc­trine was not glob­ally ac­cepted.

“I don’t think that the govern­ment can demon­strate con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence and a gen­eral ac­cep­tance by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that they had to act in the way they did a few days ago,” she said.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Labour rep­re­sen­ta­tives con­sider Mr Cor­byn to be dan­ger­ously close to Rus­sia. John Woodcock, a prominent sup­porter of the Syria strikes, called on the lead­er­ship to ad­dress the bru­tal­ity of the Syria regime.

“I wish my front­bench would spend even a frac­tion of the en­ergy on As­sad and Rus­sia’s grotesque slaugh­ter of civil­ians as they are on in­vent­ing new rea­sons to op­pose tar­geted UK in­ter­ven­tion to stop it,” Mr Woodcock said.

At a meet­ing of Euro­pean for­eign min­is­ters, the British and French re­ceived the back­ing of the other coun­tries in the bloc.

For­eign min­is­ters in the group urged con­tin­ued en­gage­ment with Rus­sia and Iran to re­strain Bashar Al As­sad.

Boris John­son, the British For­eign Sec­re­tary, said that there was no plan for more strikes at regime, much less ac­tion to de­pose the regime.

“I’m afraid the Syr­ian war will go on in its hor­ri­ble, mis­er­able way. But it was the world say­ing that we’ve had enough of the use of chem­i­cal weapons,” Mr John­son said. Em­manuel Macron, the French Pres­i­dent, has dis­missed de­mands from the Na­tional As­sem­bly to ac­count for French par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“This man­date is given demo­crat­i­cally to the pres­i­dent by the peo­ple in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” Mr Macron said.

AP

British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said the three coun­tries were left with few al­ter­na­tives to mil­i­tary ac­tion

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