Cabinet agrees ‘need for action’ in Syria
Cabinet ministers have agreed “on the need to take action” in Syria to “deter the further use of chemical weapons”, Downing Street has said.
Ministers agreed it was “highly likely” the Assad regime was responsible for a suspected chemical attack at a cabinet meeting lasting more than two hours.
They agreed that the use of chemical weapons must not “go unchallenged”.
Sources say the PM is prepared to take action against the Assad regime without first seeking Parliamentary consent.
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But no details of UK involvement in any military action in Syria were mentioned in the Downing Street statement.
There have been calls from opposition parties and some Conservative MPs for Parliament to have a vote beforehand.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life. It will just take more lives and spawn the war elsewhere.”
Mrs May has said “all the indications” are that the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad, which denies mounting a chemical attack, was responsible for the alleged attack in the formerly rebel-held town of Douma.
During a meeting called on Thursday to discuss the UK response, she described it as “shocking and barbaric” and said it was a “further example of the erosion of international law in relation to the use of chemical weapons, which was deeply concerning to us all”.
Downing Street said the cabinet had “agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged” and “on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime”.
“Cabinet agreed the prime minister should continue to work with allies in the United States and France to coordinate an international response,” the statement added.
BBC political correspondent Alex Forsyth said the statement echoed Mrs May’s words on the attack on Wednesday and suggested the cabinet had given its backing to her position – to support any potential military action as part of a co-ordinated international response with the US and France.
Senior figures from Russia, which provides military support to the Syrian regime, have warned of a Russian response to a US attack.
On Tuesday President Donald Trump tweeted to warn Russia that a missile attack on Syria “will be coming”.
Mr Corbyn criticised the US president’s rhetoric, saying: “I think the whole world should be alarmed at that sort of instant reaction – sending stuff out on social media to make policy.”
In a subsequent tweet on Thursday, the US president said an attack on Syria “could be very soon or not so soon at all”.
MPs are due to return to Westminster from the Easter recess on Monday.
Brexit Secretary David Davis, one of the MPs to oppose military action against President Assad when it was rejected by the Commons in 2013, said he was assured that evidence and intelligence, as well as a “proper plan”, would be provided this time.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, told the BBC a Parliamentary debate should take place before – rather than after – military action has taken place because Mrs May does not have a majority in the House of Commons.
Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith also called for Parliament to have its say before anything is agreed.
But Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while “politically it may make sense”, Mrs May did not need to ask for a vote.
He added that a “very targeted operation” at Syrian chemical weapons stocks need not trigger a conflict with Russia.
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable did not rule out backing military action but he said Parliament would have to give its approval, with conditions.
Medical sources say dozens of people were killed, including children, during the alleged toxic bombing of the formerly rebel-held town of Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region.