May still thinks it was OK to bomb without MPs’ vote
THERESA May was forced to deny being Donald Trump’s lapdog as she suffered a three-hour grilling from 140 MPs over the blitz on Syria.
The Prime Minister faced a major Commons backlash yesterday over her controversial decision to launch strikes without the consent of Parliament.
Labour’s Laura Smith demanded to know exactly when the US President had told her the offensive against despot Bashar al-Assad’s regime would happen.
And Mrs May replied: “The answer to her question is – at no point at all.”
She said it was in our national interest to act and “we have not done this because President Trump asked us to but because it was the right thing to do”.
But the clash conjured memories of how Tony Blair was mockingly referred to as President George W Bush’s poodle over his relationship with the US leader during the Iraq conflict.
The scenes were heated as MPs got their first chance to question Mrs May over Saturday’s missile attacks.
The co-ordinated strikes with the US and France were retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Douma, allegedly by the Assad regime. Mrs May said it was “legally and morally right”, that there was “clear evidence” Assad was behind the atrocity and she had “explored every diplomatic channel”.
But blasting her for snubbing MPs, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The Prime Minister is accountable to this Parliament, not to the whims of the US President. Her predecessor came to this House to seek authority for military action in Libya and in Syria in 2015, and the House had a vote over Iraq in 2003. There is no more serious issue than the life and death matters of military action.” He also demanded to know if France and the US were urged to bring strikes
forward to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, as has been claimed, adding: “I believe the action was legally questionable.”
And Mr Corbyn insisted the Attorney General’s legal advice be published in full, later citing the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War. He asked the PM if she agreed with its key recommendation for greater checks on intelligence used to make the case for Government policies.
Mr Corbyn said: “Given neither the UN nor the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has yet investigated Douma, it is clear diplomatic and non-military means have not been fully exhausted. While much suspicion rightly points to the Assad government, chemical weapons have been used by other groups in the conflict.”
Tory Ken Clarke demanded Mrs May establish a cross-party commission to look at Parliament’s role in approving military action. Currently, the Government does not technically need MPs’ consent – but seeks it by convention.
Mrs May pointed to a written ministerial statement in 2016 that said the Government would not put the convention in law to retain the ability to protect the UK in unpredictable circumstances.
But Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said it was “perfectly possible” for the House to have been recalled before the blitz.
Tory former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: “Would the Prime Minister accept the public well understand that when our forces need to act quickly and decisively and safely in concert with our allies, it must be right to authorise strikes without giving notice?”
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable asked if the PM would order strikes over any further chemical attack, to which she replied: “Nobody should be in any doubt of our resolve to ensure we cannot see a situation where use of chemical weapons is normalised.”
MPs last night supported an emergency debate application from Labour’s Alison McGovern, allowing a debate on the Syria situation. It began at 8pm, set to last three hours. They also backed an emergency debate application by Mr Corbyn on the right of Parliament to debate and clear action overseas, taking place today.
Meanwhile, in the Lords, Ex-Lib Dem leader Lord Campbell said it was difficult to conclude that the attack was “anything other than lawful”. But he said the Government made “a mistake in not recalling Parliament” before acting.
Separately, Mrs May yesterday accused Russia of preventing international inspectors from reaching Douma.
The OPCW said Syrian and Russian officials cited “security issues”. Russia suggested the air strikes were part of it and denied interfering with inspections.
Mrs May said: “The Syrian regime has reportedly been attempting to conceal evidence by searching evacuees to ensure samples are not being smuggled and a wider operation to conceal facts is under way, supported by the Russians.”
POWERS Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
MISSION Trump led allied attack Assad regime has been accused of chemical atrocity Russia and Syria have allegedly stopped inspectors DOUMA YESTERDAY DOUMA 9 DAYS AGO