Isabel Hardman

Syria strike: the question for May is not ‘why’ but ‘what next’?

Syria strike: the question for May is not 'why' but 'what next'?
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Overnight, British, French and US forces took part in strikes against the Syrian regime as a punishment for the use of chemical weapons in Douma. In a statement released in the small hours, Theresa May described these as ‘co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use’. The Prime Minister insisted that action had to be taken quickly ‘to alleviate further humanitarian suffering and to maintain the vital security of our operations’.

But this action has had to take place without a vote in the House of Commons, which many in May’s own party, let alone those on the other side of the House, had been demanding. When the Prime Minister comes to Parliament on Monday afternoon, she will face a barrage of angry questions about why she hasn’t respected Parliament and why she wanted to act without scrutiny.

The government has worked out a much clearer argument about these strikes than David Cameron managed in his doomed vote on Syria in 2013. This morning, Gavin Williamson repeated the line about this not being about regime change, and about the necessity of acting swiftly when he was interviewed on the Today programme. May will doubtless make the same points again in the Commons.

There are valid questions about consulting Parliament, but MPs would be the most useful in pressing the government on what it expects to happen next, rather than rehearsing points about votes and whether or not they personally believe in military intervention. What happens next is a question that successive governments in recent years have failed to answer, and this failure to give that answer has led to terrible long-term consequences in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

Williamson told Today that a political solution was necessary: but what does that really mean, given the current situation on the UN Security Council? Similarly, it is unclear as to whether further action will be taken, with mixed messages coming from the Trump administration. Does the British government intend these strikes to be one-off actions before leaving the Syrian conflict to continue, punctuated by further punishments for more chemical attacks? Parliament would be at its best if it really stretched ministers on these points, rather than arguing somewhat pointlessly about something that has already happened.