House of Commons Syria debate – as it happened: Jeremy Corbyn secures emergency debate on UK military action


Good morning, and welcome to our live coverage of the aftermath of joint military strikes by western powers in Syria.

 

Theresa May is to face MPs later today, and will try to make the case further for having ordered the attack on what the US, UK and France described as chemical weapons facilities on Saturday morning.

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt said this morning that she supported governments being able to send in the UK’s armed forces without parliament’s approval, because the intelligence used to make those decisions is too sensitive to be shared with every MP.

 

Allowing a vote in parliament, therefore, would be “quite wrong”, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

 

She said: “What I would say to those that are calling for Parliament to be able to decide these things and not the government, is that we – and I very much understand the shadow of Chilcot that forms the backdrop to this – to take a decision on whether something is legally justified and whether what we’re actually intending on doing in terms of targets is appropriate, you would need to know information that could not be shared with every MP.

“Outsourcing that decision to people who do not have the full picture is, I think, quite wrong.

 

“I support governments being able to take those decisions. Parliament should hold governments to account for that decision, and of course MPs, they’ve always been able to raise their views with the prime minister and other members of the government.”

 

Reminded that in 2011 the then-foreign secretary, William Hague, had committed the government to allowing parliament a vote on military action, Ms Mordaunt added: “To take a decision of this magnitude, to decide what the course of action you are proposing is actually going to deter and degrade, is actually going to have an effect on someone being able to use chemical weapons, and to decide whether something is legally justified or not, you can only do that with a level of intelligence that is not available to members of parliament.”

Ms Mordaunt said she could not confirm whether a vote would take place in the Commons later today on the Syria issue.

The US is planning fresh sanctions on Russian companies in the wake of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, the country’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley has said.

 

Both the Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied involvement, which is believed to have killed about 75 civilians including children.

 

US to impose new sanctions on Russia, says UN ambassador Nikki Haley

Washington will impose new sanctions on Russia, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said – as Western allies look to put some diplomatic clout behind military strikes launched on Syria in the wake of an apparent chemical weapon attack.

 

“Russian sanctions will be coming down,” Ms Haley said during on appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, adding that the new sanctions are expected to be announced by treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday.

Our reporter Robert Fisk, writing from Damascus, analyses Donald Trump’s “mission accomplished” tweet in the light of new fighting in the Syrian capital on Sunday.

 

Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ quip over Syria may come back to haunt him

Syrian army troop reinforcements are moving up to more front lines in the suburbs of Damascus for another battle which could prove to be a carbon copy of the Douma siege.

 

Just as some fighters accepted Russian military mediation to leave Eastern Ghouta two weeks ago, while others stalled and held out to the end – when footage of gassed civilians went around the world and led to last week’s Anglo-American and French air strikes in Syria – Russian and Syrian government negotiations to end the battles for the Yarmouk Camp have largely succeeded.

Turkey does not stand with any country on the Syrian issue, and its policy in the region is different from that of Iran, Russia and the US, deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag has said.

Speaking to reporters in Qatar Mr Bozdag, the government spokesman, also said Turkey did not hesitate to work together with any country who defended “correct principles” on Syria.

His comments were in response to a reporter’s question about an earlier remark from French president Emmanuel Macron, who said Turkey’s support of missile strikes against Syria showed it had “separated” from Russia.

 

Reuters

Raffaele Trombetta, Italy’s ambassador to the UK, has said his country backed joint strikes in Syria because “it was a focused action, but what we made clear and I think that was also confirmed by other leaders, it was not the beginning of an escalation.”

 

Continued military intervention would not be support by Italy, he added on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, saying: “We believe that the use of force is not the solution to the Syrian crisis, it’s been seven years going on, hundreds, thousands I should say, of people have died.

 

“Only a political and diplomatic process could actually start the way towards the end of this conflict.”

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the bloc wants to use a major meeting on Syria next week to give impetus to UN peace moves following Western air strikes on the country.

Ms Mogerhini said on Monday there was a “need to give a push to the UN-led process.” 

 

Speaking before she chaired talks among EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, she said that “people are suffering, people are dying, and I think the whole international community has to take responsibility for this”.

 
More than 70 delegations are expected to attend a Syria donor conference in Brussels on 24 and 25 April. 

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok added: “We should keep on pushing for a solution through the UN Security Council. It’s the only way forward.”

 

AP

Boris Johnson has warned the UK must prepare for retaliation by Russia for its role in the air strikes in Syria.

 

The Foreign Secretary said Moscow had a track record of launching cyber attacks on infrastructure and interfering in the democratic processes of other countries.

 

His contact with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had gone cold in the wake of the bombings, he said on the Andrew Marr Show.

 

And this morning, arriving for a summit of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Mr Johnson said of the strikes: “It was the world saying that we have had enough of the use of chemical weapons, the erosion of that taboo that has been in place for 100 years has gone too far under Bashar Assad.”

 

Saturday’s military action was “not an attempt to change the tide of the war in Syria or to have regime change”, and “the Syrian war in many ways will go on in its horrible, miserable way”, he added.

 

Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow attorney general, has said there was “no obvious reason” why Theresa May did not go to parliament for approval of her air strikes in Syria.

 

She said she welcomed “that [today’s] debate is going to happen at all but I think it’s a little too late”.

 

Speaking to Sky News, she added: “The government concedes that this wasn’t a strike in self-defence and it obviously wasn’t pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution. Which leaves the government with an embryonic doctrine … of humanitarian intervention.

 

“The government is going to have to argue that it had agreement from the international community as a whole of the urgent need for this particular strike, and that there was no practical alternative to this particular strike.

 

“I find that difficult to understand, in particular when the chemical weapons inspectors were on their way in.”

Russia has promised not to interfere with the OPCW’s work in Syria, AFP reports.

 

The assurance came as a US envoy claimed Russia may have tampered with the site of the alleged chemical attack.

 

US Ambassador Kenneth Ward called on the OPCW to act against ongoing use of banned poisonous weapons.

 

“It is long overdue that this council condemns the Syrian government for its reign of chemical terror and demands international accountability those responsible for these heinous acts,” he said in comments seen by Reuters. 

The OPCW has recorded 390 allegations of banned chemical use in Syria since 2014, the UK’s envoy to the body has said.

 

Failure to act in the country risks “further barbaric use of chemical weapons”, Peter Wilson told an OPCW executive council meeting.

 

He added: “The time has come for all members of this executive council to take a stand. Too many duck the responsibility that comes with being a member of this council.

 

“Failure to act to hold perpetrators to account will only risk further barbaric use of chemical weapons, in Syria and beyond.”

 

 

Ahmet Üzümcü, the OPCW’s director general, has said that while the body’s fact-finding team arrived in Damascus on Saturday, Russia and Syria have not yet allowed it access to Douma, according to a tweet by the UK delegation to the body.

The Foreign Office has released Peter Wilson’s full statement to the OPCW’s executive council this morning.

 

In it, he calls Russia’s claim the UK may have been behind the Douma attack “ludicrous”.

 

He added: “The attack on Douma was not reported by just a sole source in opposition to the regime.

 

“There are multiple eye witness accounts, substantial video footage, accounts from first responders and medical evidence.

 

“This council heard similar false claims from Russia and from Syria last year. They questioned the credibility of the evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

 

“Then they had to change their story once Syria itself had passed samples to the OPCW which Syria had already tested, and which proved that sarin had been used.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister has denied claims that chemical weapons inspectors are being blocked from visiting Douma, according to the RIA news agency. Delays were due to the recent air strikes, it quoted Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Mr Ryabkov said Russia will resist any new attempts to carry out strikes in Syria, according to Interfax, and warned of a tougher response in future.

Germany’s government has rejected suggestions it failed to live up to its international responsibilities by not taking part in air strikes against Syria.

Mass-circulation daily Bild ran a full-page article under the headline: “Why does Germany shirk the dirty work?” on Monday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government did not participate in the airstrikes but applauded them.

Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany had not been asked to make a military contribution. He said the country, which is seeking a UN Security Council seat for 2019-20, is “active internationally in many ways” and pointed to its participating in “difficult military deployments” in Mali and Afghanistan.

Mr Seibert said: “It is nothing special for Germany to support a deployment by its allies and friends but not participate militarily.”

Military deployments are unpopular in Germany and require parliamentary approval.

 

AP


French president Emmanuel Macron during a press conference on 16 April

 

Emmanuel Macron has clarified comments that he “convinced” President Donald Trump to maintain US military presence in Syria, a remark that had prompted a rebuttal from the White House.

 

The French president maintained on Monday that he “never said” either the US or France would stay engaged long term in Syria in a military sense, hours after saying in a live Sunday interview that he had managed to change Mr Trump’s mind on withdrawing troops.

 

Mr Macron said both French and US positions were in line and the main aim in Syria was the “war against Isis”.

 

However, he said that by joining forces with France and the UK for last Saturday’s air strikes, the US “fully realised that our responsibility went above and beyond the war against Isis and that it was a humanitarian responsibility as well on the ground”.

 

Here is our story from yesterday about Mr Macron’s comments:

 

The EU is considering further sanctions against Syria following the alleged chemical attack in Douma, a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers has announced.

 

“The European Union will continue to consider further restrictive measures against Syria as long as the repression continues,” all 28 representatives said in a statement after their talks in Luxembourg, referring to economic sanctions.

 

Any new sanctions on Bashar al-Assad’s government would build on a series of such EU measures since 2011.

 

The range from an arms embargo and a ban on dealings with the Syrian central bank to travel bans and asset freezes on Syrian officials, military, business people and scientists accused of developing chemical weapons.

 

But EU diplomats said there was no discussion on Monday about targetting Russian military figures who, along with Iran, have allowed Mr Assad to regain rebel-held territory in Syria’s seven-year war.

 

Yesterday the US said it would look to impose fresh sanctions on Russia, but the EU did not say it would join those measures.

 

Additional reporting by Reuters



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