Defence Notes

May and Macron face lawmakers angry over Syria strikes

16th April 2018 - 15:13 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in London


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British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron on 16 April faced anger from lawmakers for conducting air strikes with the US in Syria in their first major military action since coming to power.

May was due to address MPs after proceeding with the joint strikes without prior parliamentary approval - a sensitive subject in Britain where memories of participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 are still raw.

The Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition, has said the strikes were ‘legally questionable’ and called for new legislation to stop governments launching military action without lawmakers' backing in most circumstances.

Corbyn wrote in a weekend letter to May: ‘I believe that parliament should have been consulted and voted on the matter. The UK Prime Minister is accountable to parliament, not to the whims of a US President.’

Corbyn is holding a demonstration outside parliament later on 16 April.

The group said the strikes ‘will have done nothing to end the war’ and ‘risked dramatically widening’ the conflict.

The leaders of the opposition Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats have also criticised May and there is the possibility of a vote in parliament later on 16 April that could embarrass the Prime Minister if she loses.

In France, Macron has faced similar criticism for attacking Syria without consulting the legislature but defended the move as well as his constitutional powers in a TV interview on 15 April.

Macron said: ‘This mandate is given democratically to the president by the people in the presidential election.’ He also said that he had convinced US President Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria ‘for the long-term’.

Macron has been criticised from both right and left.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen has accused Macron of failing to show any evidence on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime to justify the strikes.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the hard-left France Unbowed party, has also condemned the strikes, while the leader of the centre-right Republicans party, Laurent Wauquiez, said he ‘did not believe in punitive strikes’.

But at a press conference in Paris on 16 April, Macron said that France had acted with ‘international legitimacy’.

He argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN since under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

Ahead of May's speech in parliament, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on 16 April said the strikes were ‘right for the UK and right for the world’ ahead of talks with EU foreign ministers.

Johnson said: ‘It was the world saying that we have had enough of the use of chemical weapons, the erosion of that taboo that has been in place for 100 years has gone too far under (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad.’

But a poll showed scant public support for the move.

The poll by Survation for the Mail on 15 April showed 36% in favour of Britain's participation in the air strikes, 40% against and the remainder undecided.

Out of the 2,060 respondents in the survey, 54% also agreed with the statement that May ‘should have held a parliamentary debate and vote before intervening militarily in Syria’.

In her speech in parliament, May will stress that Britain acted for humanitarian reasons and with wide international backing.

According to extracts from the speech released by her office, May will say: ‘We cannot wait to alleviate further humanitarian suffering caused by chemical weapons attacks.’

May is expected to say: ‘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.’

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