- Theresa May prepares for a crunch Commons debate on Syria after she authorised air strikes against the regime.
- Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will seek a vote at the end of an “emergency debate” on the issue.
- The UK government is leaving the door open to support future strikes against Assad.
- Labour release legal advice questioning the legality of the strikes.
LONDON – Theresa May has put her MPs on alert for a crunch debate on the UK’s involvement in Syrian air strikes after the Labour party questioned the legality of the strikes against President Assad’s regime.
The prime minister authorised strikes against chemical weapons facilities in Syria in the early hours of Saturday morning without first seeking the consent of parliament.
The opposition Labour party believes this is a breach of recent historical parliamentary convention which holds that MPs must be given a vote on military action by the UK.
Downing Street denies this, saying the convention allows military action to be taken without a vote under “emergency” circumstances when any delay would put the lives of armed services personel at risk.
However, on Monday Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson released legal advice questioning the legality of the strikes. The advice by Oxford University law professor Dapo Akande accuses the government of “[ignoring] the structure of the international law rules relating to the use of force,” against another state.
“Contrary to the position of the government, neither the UN charter nor customary international law permits military action on the basis of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention,” it states.
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will on Monday push for a vote on the action at the end of a planned “emergency debate” called by the government this afternoon. Both the government and opposition parties have submitted requests for a debate on issue. The House of Commons speaker will decide later on Monday which, if any, motions will be debated.
May’s decision to hold an emergency debate under Section 24 powers means that any vote will not be binding. SO24 votes are typically on bland motions acknowledging the existence of the debate, although opposition parties have previously submitted stronger-worded motions.
Corbyn opposes the current action by the US, UK and France and insists that any future intervention should only go ahead with the approval of the UN – where Russia holds a veto.
“Saturday’s attack on sites thought to be linked to Syria’s chemical weapons capability was both wrong and misconceived,” the Labour leader writes in the Guardian today.
“It was either purely symbolic – a demolition of what appear to be empty buildings, already shown to be entirely ineffective as a deterrent – or it was the precursor to wider military action. That would risk a reckless escalation of the war.”
However, in a statement to MPs May will insist that the government could not “wait to alleviate further humanitarian suffering caused by chemical weapons attacks.”
“Let me be absolutely clear: we have acted because it is in our national interest to do so,” she will add.
“It is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria – and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used.
“For we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”
A spokesperson for the prime minister
The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Sunday left the door open for future strikes against Syria, should Assad use chemical weapons again.
Conservative MPs have been put on a “three line whip” to attend today’s debate under the expectation that Labour and other opposition parties will force a vote.