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Theresa May
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/PA

Theresa May grilled in UK parliament over Syria airstrikes

April 16, 2018

The prime minister responded to allegations that she was "riding the coat-tails" of the United States. She argued the UK had to re-establish the global consensus against chemical weapons.


UK Prime Minister Theresa May defended the country's recent missile strikes in Syria to the House of Commons on Monday, despite criticism from all parties that she had not sought parliamentary approval before the strikes.

"Seventy-five people, including young children, were killed in a horrific chemical attack," said May, calling the attack "a stain on our humanity."

She went on to list the evidence that Syrian regime had to be behind the attack, including witness and NGO reports, as well as the fact that the military hardware required for such an attack could not have come from "Islamic State" terrorists or other Syrian rebels.

May headed off criticism that she had not waited for a UN resolution — mentioning Russia's inevitable veto — and that she was acting to restore the global norms against chemical attacks, not "following orders" from the United States.

"It is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria — and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used. So we have not done this because President Trump asked us to do so," she said.

'Legally questionable'

That did not stop opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, however, of accusing her of forgetting that she was "accountable to this parliament, not the whims of the US president." He went on to castigate May for ignoring some precedents by permitting the strikes without putting the matter to a vote. Under the so-called royal prerogative, British governments are not obliged to take potential military strikes or wars to parliament for approval; however, in several recent instances governments have elected to do so — including two votes on potential military action in Syria in recent years. 

Calling the strikes "legally questionable," Corbyn brought up the subject of the war in Yemen, which has been described by various international groups as the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world" — challenging May on her claims that the airstrikes were a matter of moral responsibility.

"We clearly need a war powers act in this country to transform a now broken convention into a legal obligation," the Labour leader said.

May was even criticized by members of her own Conservative party, who cited the lack of debate on the matter as problematic.

Liberal Democrat leader Vincent Cable said he was also concerned that May "made a grave mistake not bringing the case for military action to parliament," and, like Corbyn, accused her of "riding on the coat-tails of an unpredictable US president."

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.
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