PM May risks escalating the conflict, says Jeremy Corbyn
In Britain, opposition is building up to any British involvement in military strikes in Syria, particularly without the issue being taken to Parliament first.
On Friday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attacked Prime Minister Theresa May for risking “escalating an already devastating conflict” by expressing support for U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat of military intervention. “The government appears to be waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump on how to proceed. But the U.S. administration is giving alarmingly contradictory signals,” he said, calling for the government to press for an independent UN-led investigation of the chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Mr. Corbyn said that rather than a military action, what was needed was a coordinated international drive for a ceasefire and a negotiated UN-led settlement. “The need to start genuine negotiations for peace and an inclusive political settlement of the Syrian conflict, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces could not be more urgent.”
Vincent Cable, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said that while his party did not rule out supporting military strikes, parliamentary approval was essential for any action to be taken.
“Cabinet agreement” was not “sufficient for action”, he said. “Parliament must consider evidence, objectives and vote.”
Parliament is in recess until next week, but the Prime Minister recalled the Cabinet for a meeting on Thursday, during which it was agreed that it was “highly likely” that the Syrian regime was responsible for Saturday’s attack on Douma, which killed up to 75 people, including children.
“The Cabinet agreed that it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged…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,” the Downing Street said in a statement.
Over the past few days, divisions have begun to emerge within the main political parties. While some Labour MPs support military intervention, some Conservative MPs are concerned about their government’s more hawkish approach. Writing in the Guardian on Thursday, Conservative MP Bob Seely, a former soldier, warned military intervention carried profound dangers.
Meanwhile the Stop the War campaign, which organised one of the biggest demonstrations in British history against the Iraq War in February 2003, launched a campaign against an escalation, calling on members of the public to write to their MPs. A protest was due to take place outside Downing Street on Friday evening, when a petition signed by politicians, lawyers and others will be handed in to Downing Street.
British law does not require the government to seek parliamentary approval before going to war, but the country remains haunted by its lead role in Iraq. An inquiry whose findings were made public in 2016, led by Sir John Chilcot, concluded that Britain had chosen to “join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at the time was not a last resort.”
In a statement on Friday, the Russian Embassy in London pointed to the “infamous aggression against Iraq”, and expressed concerns about reports that Britain was preparing for participation in a military operation against Syria, despite a “lack of evidence… its essential to avoid any steps which could escalate the tensions”.