Theresa May refuses to rule out further Syria strikes

British PM defends decision to launch action against Assad without parliamentary approval

British prime minister Theresa May faced questions in the House of Commons about the bombardment of Syria. Video: Parliamentlive.tv

 

British prime minister Theresa May has defended her decision to launch air strikes against Syria without prior parliamentary approval, describing the action as essential to alleviate the suffering of civilians and to prevent the further use of chemical weapons.

In a defiant statement to the House of Commons on Monday, the British prime minister refused to rule out taking military action again without consulting MPs and angrily rejected the charge that she had acted on instructions from US president Donald Trump.

“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere. So we have not done this because President Trump asked us to do so. We have done it because we believed it was the right thing to do,” she said.

Almost all opposition MPs who spoke in response to the prime minister’s statement criticised her decision to take military action without a debate in Parliament, a position that was shared by some Conservatives. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn questioned the legal basis of the air strikes, arguing that the United States, Britain and France had failed to exhaust diplomatic efforts before resorting to force.

British prime minister Theresa May fields questions in the House of Commons following UK participation in air strikes on Syria. Photograph: Getty Images
British prime minister Theresa May fields questions in the House of Commons following UK participation in air strikes on Syria. Photograph: Getty Images

The prime minister said Mr Corbyn’s demand that the United Nations should endorse any British military intervention amounted to giving Russia a veto over British foreign policy.

Britain complained on Monday that chemical weapons inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been denied access to the site of the chemical weapons attack at Douma, outside Damascus, which triggered the western military response. Syria and Russia cited “pending security issues” as the reason for the delay, instead offering the inspectors interviews with 22 people they said were witnesses to the attack.

A bomb-damaged Douma street in the wake of air strikes. Photograph: Ali Hashisho/Reuters
A bomb-damaged Douma street in the wake of air strikes. Photograph: Ali Hashisho/Reuters

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was among a number of EU foreign ministers who pressed for an EU statement to offer “understanding” rather than wholehearted support for the air strikes. Speaking in Luxembourg, where the foreign ministers were meeting on Monday, Mr Coveney said he had been vocal in looking for changes to the wording of the statement. 

“I said last week and I say again this week that Ireland urges caution in relation to military intervention in a country that has been devastated by military intervention,” he said.