Whips struggle with emergency debate on Syria

This afternoon’s emergency debate on Syria isn’t quite working out as anyone had really planned. For Labour, it was an opportunity to undermine the government by complaining about the lack of parliamentary consent for the weekend strikes on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capability. For the Tories, it was an opportunity to show that there was still strong support across the House for that action. Some MPs may even have come along to debate the principles in question; namely the balance of powers between executive and legislature. Jeremy Corbyn certainly tried to pitch it thus when he spoke, arguing that what the Prime Minister had done was anti-democratic: ‘It seems

How Theresa May could make future decisions on military action a little easier

Though Theresa May, still responding to questions from MPs in the Commons on the weekend strikes in Syria, seems to have won support from a clear majority of MPs, her session has not been entirely comfortable. A large number of backbench Labour MPs made clear that they agreed with the Prime Minister’s assessment that the chemical attack in Douma had been launched by the Assad regime, but they also expressed disappointment that there had not been a vote in Parliament beforehand. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable agreed with this, as did the SNP. But one striking intervention came from Ken Clarke, who asked May to consider setting up a cross-party

James Forsyth

Theresa May explains herself to parliament

Theresa May came to the House today to explain why the UK joined in the strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities and why she had not consulted the House first. May argued, rightly, that there was no prospect of getting UN authorisation for action because Russia would simply veto anything that affected its client regime in Damascus. She also pointed out that if the democratic world had failed to act against Assad following these attacks, we would be slipping back to a time when the use of chemical weapons was regarded as normal. But, perhaps, the most controversial part of her statement was on why she had not consulted parliament

Jeremy Corbyn’s rationale for opposing the Syria strike is collapsing

The Syria missile strike has been backed by the governments of Germany, Canada, New Zealand and more – but not Jeremy Corbyn. Not for him the convention of the Opposition leader supporting the government in issues of war and peace. ‘I say to the Prime Minister: where is the legal case for this?’ he told Andrew Marr this morning. The legal case has been published here, at some length. Corbyn then suggested that international OPCW inspectors should be called in to judge what had happened. But is there any doubt about what happened? Today, the Sunday Times publishes testimonies of victims of the gas attack: accounts of differing people corroborate the

Jeremy Corbyn will never give war a chance

The best that can be said for Jeremy Corbyn’s response to air strikes against the Assad regime is that he is at least consistent. Why did he assert that the smart cuff meted out last night risked ‘escalating further… an already devastating conflict’? Because in Corbyn’s worldview, it is the felling of chemical weapons factories, not the extermination of children with the chemical weapons those factories produce, that escalates conflict. Why did he echo Syrian state media in questioning the legality of military action? Because Corbyn is a cynic who calculates that feigning concern for the global rules-based order — something he believes in only intermittently — is useful for stalling, deflection and water-muddying.

Melanie McDonagh

What is Theresa May’s strategy in Syria?

Happy now? The US-led air strikes against Syrian bases, notably chemical weapons storage facilities, near Damascus and Homs and reportedly elsewhere, has been, according to all the participants, American, Brits and French, a success. Or, as Donald Trump put it, ‘the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality’. Well that’s good, if you put it like that. Unrighteous power would have been quite another thing. And no one wants to see chemical weapons used in Syria or anywhere else, no? Trouble is, the actual war in Syria will not be terribly affected by these air strikes, except, as

Theresa May’s Syria strikes statement, full text

Last night British, French and American armed forces conducted co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use. For the UK’s part four RAF Tornado GR 4’s launched storm shadow missiles at a military facility some 15 miles west of Homs, where the regime is assessed to keep chemical weapons in breach of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. While the full assessment of the strike is ongoing, we are confident of its success. Let me set out why we have taken this action. Last Saturday up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a despicable and barbaric attack in

Isabel Hardman

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

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

James Forsyth

Theresa May reveals her hawkish side

So, what are strikes on Syria meant to achieve? Well, as I write in The Sun today, Boris Johnson was clear at Thursday’s Cabinet what they aren’t trying to do. The Foreign Secretary emphasised that this wasn’t about regime change in Damascus or altering the course of the Syrian civil war. Instead, it was about maintaining the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. The aim is to ensure that Bashar al-Assad’s regime realises that if it uses gas, it will face consequences. If no action is taken, Assad’s forces will step up their use of chemical weapons. Why, because they are trying to clear out opponents who are dug

Bombing Syria would be a grave mistake

‘The whole of the Balkans,’ Otto von Bismarck said, ‘is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.’ He was right, until he was wrong. Times changed, and so did the map. In 1914, with Bismarck gone and no one to restrain the Kaiser, terrorism in the Balkans sparked a world war. How much of Iraq was worth the bones of the thousands of Americans who died in Iraq? Only in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq did the United States turn an enemy state into an ally. How much of Syria is worth the bones of a single US Marine? None of it, because time and the map

Katy Balls

Theresa May is losing the PR battle on Syria

After Theresa May’s Cabinet agreed on the ‘need to take action’ in Syria, it seems a matter of when, not if, military strikes against the Assad regime take place. But the strikes won’t be the end of the matter politically. Labour have been quick to stir up trouble, with Jeremy Corbyn describing the government as ‘waiting for instructions’ from Donald Trump. The British government is also struggling to keep up with a Russian propaganda barrage. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected claims that there is evidence proving the Assad regime is behind the alleged attack – instead claiming its specialists have evidence that it had been faked: ‘We have

Tom Goodenough

Why can’t Diane Abbott be honest about Labour’s Syria stance?

Why can’t Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn be honest about Labour’s real stance on Syria? The shadow home secretary is demanding an ‘independent, UN-led investigation’ into what happened in Douma to determine whether chemical weapons were used in the attack this week. This is the line parroted by the Labour leader, who has said: “Britain should press for an independent U.N.-led investigation of last weekend’s horrific chemical weapons attack so that those responsible can be held to account.” But as Abbott and Corbyn know (or should know) only too well, an independent UN-led investigation is for the birds; it won’t happen. So Abbott and Corbyn would be more honest if

Syrians are paying a heavy price for the UN’s incompetence

The United Nations Security Council has major responsibility in its job description: to maintain international peace and security. It is spelled out in Article 24 of the U.N. Charter, a tall task in normal circumstances but one that nonetheless underscores the core of the council’s very existence. Without it, the Security Council might as well be simply another distinguished debating society – a place where interesting, intellectually stimulating conversation occurs but where people leave without finding much consensus. On the subject of Syria, the top U.N. body has been anything but distinguished. Nor is there serious debate going on in the room. Conversations on how to stem the violence perpetrated by the

Freddy Gray

Parliament got Syria right in 2013 – it deserves to vote again

As I’ve said before, but it needs saying again because these people never stop — the let’s-bomb-Syria brigade has never quite gotten over the horror of being rebuffed by Parliament in 2013. And this week, what with the latest reported use of chemical weapons by Assad in Syria, they’ve got their tails up again. We don’t need Parliamentary approval for military action, they say, and Parliament got it wrong last time so go go go! George Osborne’s Evening Standard is adamant. So are Tom Tugendhat MP and Nick Boles MP. So is Johnny Mercer, who says that voting against military action is a ‘vanity vote’, which is itself a vain statement. Their line

Katy Balls

Not all Tories are gung-ho for intervention in Syria

As Theresa May meets with her Cabinet to discuss a possible response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, it’s widely expected that any action she does take will be actioned without a vote in Parliament. The Prime Minister does not need to have approval through a Commons vote but recent precedent means that a lot of MPs think that she should. In that vein, today Jeremy Corbyn warned that MPs must be consulted on any UK military action. This is unsurprising but May’s bigger problem is that a sizeable portion of the Tory party is also sceptical of the merits of intervention. Were the decision to go to

Cindy Yu

The Spectator Podcast: War Games

In this week’s episode, we talk about the escalating situation in Syria and ask, would counter strikes actually help? We also look into ‘drill’ music, a genre of rap popular with the London youth most vulnerable to gang activity. Last, we talk Spice Girls and Beyoncé – what is modern ‘girl power’? President Trump is facing a major foreign policy test in the Middle East. Reports came in over the weekend of a brutal chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria. The most likely suspect is President Assad, or as Trump likes to call him, ‘Animal Assad’. But, Paul Wood asks in this week’s cover, how certain can we be that

Freddy Gray

En marche

Remember the never-ending handshake? It was 14 July 2017, Bastille Day, and Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump opened their formal relationship as leaders of their respective countries by interlocking palms and refusing to let go. They kept at it for a good 30 seconds. They didn’t release even as Trump began kissing Macron’s wife. It looked like the beginnings of a bitter rivalry. But Trump and Macron weren’t clashing. They were flirting. The night before, the two men — plus wives — had had an intimate dinner in the Eiffel Tower, and they bonded. A great bromance had been born. For all his posturing, Macron treated the US President like

On foreign policy, Trump is far more like Obama than either would admit

You could call it the John Bolton effect. The President’s new National Security Adviser has only been in the job a few days, and already Donald Trump is threatening war with Russia on Twitter: SMART! One can almost imagine Bolton’s moustache brushing Trump’s ear on that one. Trump didn’t talk about Russia like that before. But Trump’s new found bellicosity is also down to what could be called Obama syndrome. On foreign policy, you see, President Trump and his predecessor in the Oval Office are far more alike than either man would admit. They have both found themselves struggling over the problem of China’s rise, only then to get distracted