PM should have sought parliamentary approval before taking military action, says Labour leader
Jeremy Corbyn has described airstrikes on Syria as legally questionable and accused Theresa May of “trailing after Donald Trump” in an attack that could escalate the conflict.
The Labour leader was responding to the news that the US, UK and France launched airstrikes in Syria early on Saturday morning. Corbyn, who has called for an independent UN-led investigation of last week’s chemical weapons attack, said the prime minister should have sought parliamentary approval before launching the action.
“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” Corbyn said. “This legally questionable action risks escalating further, as US defence secretary James Mattis has admitted, an already devastating conflict and therefore makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely.”
In a press conference on Saturday morning, May said the attacks were “right and legal” and “gave a very clear message to the regime”.
Labour has opposed a military strike on Syria since the chemical weapons attack on Douma. On Thursday, Corbyn urged May to remember the lessons of intelligence failures in the buildup to the Iraq war and said: “There has to be a proper process of consultation. Cabinet on its own should not be making this decision.”
On Saturday afternoon, the UK government released a summary of its legal advice authorising airstrikes against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, which is certain to be at the centre of controversy in the coming days, not least as parliament returns from its Easter recess.
The advice argues that there were three key legal considerations that had been satisfied: “convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief; no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and that the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief”.
Arguments are most likely to focus in the coming days on the first two conditions.
Syria’s allies, including Russia and Iran, as well as other opponents of the military action will dispute that the “evidence” – in particular the assessment presented by France – is “generally accepted by the international community”, with Russia continuing to stick to its version up until the last moment that the attack was “staged”.
Critics are also likely to home in on the fact that the strikes took place before two teams of chemical weapons inspectors, who had stated their intention of visiting Douma – the site of last weekend’s attack – were able to do their work and present their reporting, which would also inform the issue of “practicable alternative[s] to the use of force”.
The counter argument to these criticisms will be made that Russia, through use of its veto, has made it almost impossible to secure agreement on evidence of culpability or alternatives.
Other British politicians also responded to news of the attack, which involved four RAF Tornado jets alongside French and American forces. The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was among the most outspoken critics of the military action, saying the move risks “dangerous escalation”.
The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, echoed Sturgeon’s views, saying: “We need a plan for peace,”, adding: “A bombing, allegedly a one-off affair, does not aid this.”
Blackford called for the recall of parliament on Saturday for an emergency debate, saying: “It is not acceptable that the prime minister has ploughed ahead without any debate or parliamentary discussion.”
Labour MPs echoed Corbyn’s view. The shadow education minister, Angela Rayner, complained that MPs had been “frozen out” of the decision and questioned the effectiveness of military action.
The MP Alison McGovern said the action had to be part of a “comprehensive strategy to save civilian life” and urged that the aid budget be deployed to the fullest extent.
The Labour backbencher John Woodcock said while May should have consulted MPs, “it was right that the UK joined our allies in action to degrade Assad’s chemical weapon capability”.
Members of other parties questioned the action, with Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable saying: “Riding the coattails of an erratic US president is no substitute for a mandate from the House of Commons. The Prime Minister could and should have recalled Parliament this week.”
The Green peer Jenny Jones asking what would be left of Syria after the bombardment.
Not everyone was critical. Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, came out in support of the prime minister.
Conservative MPs mostly backed the prime minister. The backbencher Nick Boles said the prime minister did not need parliamentary authorisation to protect the national interest.
Other Tory MPs echoed his thoughts.
Read more: www.theguardian.com