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May mulls Syria action despite cautious mood in UK

Prime Minister Theresa May was holding an emergency cabinet to discuss joining mooted strikes by the US and allies, as rival politicians and some Conservative colleagues called for a parliamentary vote before any British involvement
AFP

London (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Britain’s government weighed the possibility of military action against Syria on Thursday but faced growing scepticism from opposition leaders and deeper divisions in a country still haunted by its role in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Prime Minister Theresa May was holding an emergency cabinet to discuss joining mooted strikes by the US and allies, as rival politicians and some Conservative colleagues called for a parliamentary vote before any British involvement.

The crisis has evoked memories of the Iraq War, when lawmakers approved joining in the face of strong public opposition.

That conflict left 179 British soldiers dead and unleashed years of sectarian violence as well as protracted recriminations within the British political system over participation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn raised the spectre of the war on Thursday as he insisted MPs should be recalled from their Easter break to have their say on Syria.

“Parliament must be consulted on this,” he said.

“Surely the lessons of Iraq… are that there’s got to be… a proper process of consultation,” he added.

The Times and the Daily Telegraph newspapers reported that the cabinet would back May in joining any US-led action, as Royal Navy submarines armed with cruise missiles were moving into range.

It is believed there are no plans to recall MPs, who are not due to return to parliament until Monday.

Formally, the prime minister has the right to go to war without approval from parliament, but a convention has been established in previous conflicts where MPs have a vote either before or shortly after military action begins.

British lawmakers voted down taking military against Damascus in 2013, in what was widely viewed as an assertion of parliamentary sovereignty on the use of force.

But they backed action in Iraq the following year, and again in Syria in 2015, strictly limiting strikes to Islamic State (IS) group targets.

Britain continues to support the US-led coalition targeting IS jihadists in Iraq and Syria, and has conducted more than 1,700 strikes.

Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told the BBC that parliament “can and should be recalled immediately” to hold a vote on the latest possible action.

“The position is a very dangerous one because of Russian involvement, also because we have an erratic president of the United States.”

A YouGov poll in The Times conducted this week found that 43 percent of voters oppose strikes in Syria, with 34 percent unsure and only 22 percent supportive.

Anti-conflict coalition Stop the War called on Britons to lobby their lawmakers to prevent an “escalation of the war” and planned a Friday protest outside Downing Street.

Ministers have reflected the cautious public sentiment in their comments on the crisis.

“It is a very, very delicate circumstance, and we’ve got to make this judgment on a very careful, very deliberate, very well thought-through basis, knowing exactly … how strong the evidence is,” Brexit Secretary David Davis said ahead of Thursday’s cabinet.

Some MPs have backed Britain acting against Syria, warning that the use of chemical weapons was in breach of international law and could not be allowed to go unpunished.

Conservative former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, tweeted: “We need a clear response to the Syrian chemical outrage”.

Other members of May’s Conservative party have urged restraint in a highly fraught situation.

“What we’ve got here in Syria is a choice between monsters on the one hand and maniacs on the other,” Julian Lewis, the chairman of the House of Commons defence committee, told the BBC.

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