We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

MPs likely to have given backing before British strike on Syria

April 17, 2018 2:44 PM
By Peter Walker and Jessica Elgot in The Guardian

Theresa May was criticised over lack of advance scrutiny, but most supported military action

The Commons response to Theresa May's statement on military strikes in Syria exposed a paradox: while many believed she should have sought the approval of parliament beforehand, it seemed clear this would have been granted anyway.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips summed up this view two hours into the discussion, saying: "I regret that were wasn't a parliamentary vote on this issue. But I wish to tell the prime minister and the house that she would have had my vote had I been asked to give it."

Some other Labour MPs stood up to contradict Jeremy Corbyn's view that the UK involvement in Saturday's military action was legally questionable and should not have happened, while also regretting May's decision to not recall parliament.

Similarly, a number of independent-minded Conservative MPs supported May's decision to join the US and France in the strikes, with several of them lambasting Corbyn's position.

But the prime minister came under repeated pressure over the lack of advance parliamentary scrutiny of the decision.

Yvette Cooper, a senior backbench Labour MP, said: "The PM and her cabinet today appear not just be arguing about the circumstances of last week, but also to be rejecting the entire principle of consulting, debating and voting in parliament in advance of military action."

Another Labour MP, Hilary Benn, asked for an assurance from May that if there was a further chemical weapons attack in Syria, "she will come to parliament first, she will share such evidence as she can with us as she has today, and that she will trust parliament to decide what is to be done".

The prime minister also came under pressure over the very limited numbers of Syrian refugees brought to the UK, particularly unaccompanied children.

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Jo Swinson, highlighted what she called "the jarring contrast between the humanitarian arguments" that May has made for the airstrikes and "her government's inhumane and inadequate approach to Syrian refugees, which has left vulnerable children stranded and alone".

Labour's Stella Creasy said she wanted to "beg the prime minister to rethink her approach to those Syrians who have fled to Europe". Creasy said: "They are the same people fleeing this horror, they are the people who needed this safe haven."

A series of MPs instead took aim at Corbyn's insistence that even military action to avert humanitarian catastrophes should only happen with the approval of the UN security council, among them the Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

Such a position would mean, Grieve argued, "that any tyrant, megalomaniac, person intent on carrying out genocide, if they have the support of an amoral state within the security council, they will be able to conduct that genocide with total impunity, even if it was within our power to act to prevent it".

He added: "Far from upholding the international rules-based system, the reality is that it would be dead."

Some backbenchers were more sceptical about May's decision, including the Labour MP Laura Pidcock, who asked whether further UK strikes could take place, and Caroline Lucas, the Green co-leader, who said international inspectors should have been asked to examine the suspected chemical weapons sites attacked on Saturday.

But a series of other Labour MPs, albeit generally ones not closely allied to Corbyn, very publicly disagreed with their leader's stance.

The Ilford South MP, Mike Gapes, pointed to intervention directed by earlier Labour governments without UN approval in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and elsewhere, saying: "There is a longstanding and noble tradition on these benches supporting humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect."

Chris Leslie called the military strike "absolutely the right thing to do", adding: "Those who would turn a blind eye, who would do nothing, in pursuit of some moral high ground, should also be held accountable, for once, today as well."

Wes Streeting, also from Labour, noted the demonstration against the military strikes taking place outside parliament, organised by the Stop the War campaign group.

"We all know that the Syrian civil war will only end through diplomatic means, which is why this evening's Stop the War demonstration should be taking place outside the Russian embassy, and not outside this parliament," he said.