UK ministers back action on chemical weapon use
BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria after a suspected poison gas attack on civilians.
Mrs May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for the meeting in Downing Street to discuss Britain’s response to a chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma near Damascus, that she has cast as a barbaric attack that cannot go unchallenged.
Mrs May told her senior ministers on Thursday that the attack in Douma showed a “deeply concerning” erosion of international legal norms barring the use of chemical weapons.
“Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime,” a spokesman for the prime minister said in a statement after the meeting.
Ministers also agreed that Mrs May should continue to work with the United States and France to come up with the right response.
The statement made no specific reference to military action.
The BBC said Mrs May was ready to give the goahead for Britain to take part in action led by the United States without seeking prior approval from parliament. Downing Street spokesmen repeatedly declined to comment on that report.
“The chemical weapons attack that took place on Saturday in Douma in Syria was a shocking and barbaric act,” Mrs May told reporters on Wednesday. “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible.”
Mrs May is not obliged to win parliament’s approval, but a non-binding constitutional convention to do so has been established since a 2003 vote on joining the US-led invasion of Iraq.
It has been observed in subsequent military deployments in Libya and Iraq and many British lawmakers and voters are deeply sceptical of deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said parliament should be consulted before Mrs May approved military action.
“Just imagine the scenario if an American missile shoots down a Russian plane, or vice-a-versa — where do we go from there?” Mr Corbyn said.
A YouGov poll published on Thursday showed just one in five British voters supported a missile strike on Syria. The poll showed 43 per cent of voters opposed such a strike and 34 per cent did not know what should be done.
Britain has been launching air strikes in Syria from its military base in South Cyprus, but only against targets linked to the Islamic State militant group.
Parliament voted down British military action against Mr Assad’s government in 2013, in an embarrassment for Mrs May’s predecessor, David Cameron. That then deterred the US administration of Barack Obama from similar action. Russia envoy says he ‘cannot exclude’ war, p25