Mil­i­tary might How lead­ers re­acted to col­lec­tive ac­tion Ac­tion was law­ful and un­avoid­able says May in bid to calm crit­ics

PM pro­duces doc­u­ment lay­ing out le­gal­ity of strikes on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds to head off MPs’ hos­til­ity

The Sunday Telegraph - - Syria Strikes - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR

THERESA MAY or­dered Bri­tish air­craft to take part in strikes against the Syr­ian regime af­ter gov­ern­ment lawyers ad­vised that a strike would be law­ful on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.

A sum­mary of le­gal ad­vice signed off by Jeremy Wright, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, stated that the attack, aimed at “de­grad­ing the Syr­ian regime’s chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity”, was per­mit­ted un­der in­ter­na­tional law be­cause it rep­re­sented “an ex­cep­tional mea­sure on grounds of over­whelm­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian ne­ces­sity”.

The doc­u­ment was re­leased yes­ter­day ahead of a Com­mons state­ment by Mrs May to­mor­row dur­ing which she is likely to face strong crit­i­cism from Jeremy Cor­byn, and pos­si­bly some of her own back­benchers, about the de­ci­sion to pro­ceed with mil­i­tary ac­tion with­out Par­lia­ment’s ap­proval.

Gov­ern­ment fig­ures hoped it would al­lay con­cerns about the le­gal­ity of the strikes and pave the way for a less hos­tile re­sponse from MPs. Yes­ter­day, sev­eral se­nior Con­ser­va­tives who had pre­vi­ously op­posed mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion against Bashar al-As­sad rallied around the Prime Min­is­ter, prais­ing the ac­tion taken in the early hours of yes­ter­day morn­ing.

Speak­ing in Down­ing Street, Mrs May said her ap­pear­ance in the Com­mons would “give par­lia­men­tar­i­ans the op­por­tu­nity to ques­tion me about this”.

“I be­lieve it was right to take the ac­tion that we have done in the tim­ing that we have done, as I have in­di­cated, in re­la­tion to assess­ment plan­ning and op­er­a­tional se­cu­rity,” she said. “And it was to send a very clear mes­sage about the use of these chem­i­cal weapons.”

Draw­ing a link with last month’s nerve agent attack on a for­mer spy and his daugh­ter in Sal­is­bury, Mrs May added: “We can­not al­low the use of chem­i­cal weapons to be­come nor­malised – ei­ther within Syria, on the streets of the UK or else­where.”

Yes­ter­day Syr­ian state me­dia de­scribed the strikes as “a fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law”, while, in a let­ter to Mrs May, Jeremy Cor­byn, the Labour leader, said the ac­tion was “legally ques­tion­able” and in­sisted Par­lia­ment “should have been con­sulted and voted on the mat­ter”.

A Down­ing Street sum­mary of the le­gal ad­vice relied on by the Gov­ern­ment pointed out that in­ter­na­tional ac­tion to al­le­vi­ate suf­fer­ing caused by chem­i­cal weapons had been re­peat­edly blocked by Syria’s al­lies, in­clud­ing Rus­sia. Mr Wright’s ad­vice was con­sid­ered by the Cab­i­net on Thurs­day, along with as­sess­ments by Sir Mark Sed­will, the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and Air Chief Mar­shal Sir Stu­art Peach, the Chief of the De­fence Staff, be­fore min­is­ters agreed to take ac­tion in re­sponse to last week’s chem­i­cal attack on Syr­ian civil­ians in Douma.

The doc­u­ment high­lighted how the Syr­ian regime has been us­ing chem­i­cal weapons since 2013, when an attack on east­ern Damascus left over 800 dead.

The regime then “failed to im­ple- ment its com­mit­ment in 2013 to en­sure the de­struc­tion of its chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity”, lead­ing to an­other attack in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, which killed around 80 peo­ple and left hun­dreds more in­jured.

Last week­end’s attack in Douma killed up to 75 peo­ple, and in­jured over 500 peo­ple, the Gov­ern­ment said.

Diplo­matic ac­tion, sanc­tions, and the US strikes against the Shayrat air­base in April 2017 have failed to suf­fi­ciently de­grade Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity, the doc­u­ment added.

“There was no prac­ti­ca­ble al­ter­na­tive to the truly ex­cep­tional use of force,” the paper said.

Karen Pierce, the UK am­bas­sador to the UN, in­sisted the Gov­ern­ment was “cer­tain” of its le­gal case.

The Down­ing Street paper said the UK met three de­mands un­der in­ter­na­tional law – that there is con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence of ex­treme hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­tress, there is no prac­ti­ca­ble al­ter­na­tive to the use of force, and the ac­tion is nec­es­sary and pro­por­tion­ate.

Mrs May also in­sisted the move was in “Bri­tain’s na­tional in­ter­est”.

She said: “We must re­in­state the global con­sen­sus that chem­i­cal weapons can­not be used.

“The les­son of history is that when the global rules and stan­dards that keep us safe come un­der threat we must take a stand and de­fend them.”

Sev­eral Con­ser­va­tives could air their con­cerns in the Com­mons to­mor­row. But al­lies of the Prime Min­is­ter in­sisted that mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion was a de­ci­sion to be made by min­is­ters.

Damian Green, Mrs May’s for­mer deputy, said: “This ac­tion is a nec­es­sary and pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse to a bar­baric ac­tion. Par­lia­ment can now do its con­sti­tu­tional job of hold­ing the Gov­ern­ment to ac­count. Par­lia­ment does not take ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions.”

‘The les­son of history is that when the global rules… that keep us safe come un­der threat we must take a stand’

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