Yesterday the Prime Minister held a ‘war cabinet’ meeting. Ministers discussed Britain’s response to the alleged chemical weapons attack that took place on Saturday: they unanimously agreed both that it is “highly likely” Assad is responsible for the attack and that the use of chemical weapons must not go “unchallenged”. Although they promised to “take action”, no firm decision has been made as to what form that action will take.
Labour members and MPs including Diane Abbott are using the hashtag #NotinmynameTheresaMay to express their opposition to military action in Syria, while some Tory MPs have spoken out too (see Bob Seely’s Guardian piece today). But they won’t have a say unless parliament gets a vote, and it looks like the PM is going to avoid one. Although the Syria vote in 2013 sort of backed the idea a convention had been set with regard to consulting MPs on military action (and such precedents do matter while we have an uncodified constitution), Theresa May is under no formal obligation to gain approval from the Commons.
The conclusion of the cabinet meeting seems to be that May will “act with allies”. Unfortunately our main ally is a man whose foreign policy musings are circulated via his Twitter, where he boasted of “nice and new smart!” US missiles; a President who is today being called “pee brain” by a US tabloid following the revelations of a former FBI director. Our other ally, the calm and statesmanlike Emmanuel Macron across the channel, has spent the last few days entertaining and defending the Saudi crown prince.
Jeremy Corbyn says “more bombing, more killing, more war will not save life, it will take lives and spawn the war elsewhere”. He points out that even US defence secretary James Mattis – a man literally nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ – has warned further military action could “escalate out of control”. There appears to be an unspoken agreement, driven by a laddish foreign policy culture, that those urging caution are being ‘soft’. But it is the Labour leader’s stance that reflects the view held by the British public, 43 per cent of which oppose missile strikes in Syria according to the latest YouGov research.
Corbyn’s statement concludes: “The need to restart 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. We must do everything we can, no matter how challenging, to bring that about.”