Thank you for contacting me about recent military action in Syria.
The chemical weapons attack in Douma was horrific and contrary to all the efforts made by the international community to ban these weapons from being used on the battlefield, let alone where they will inevitably cause civilian fatalities – including children. I personally believe UK and its international allies had to respond to this to uphold the international order and make clear that such behaviour is intolerable.
Our response was limited, targeted and proportionate, and came on the back of a significant body of information that indicates that the Syrian regime was responsible for this attack.
There have been extensive diplomatic attempts to commit Syria to dismantling its chemical weapons programme, which have failed. The Government had no choice but to conclude that diplomatic action on its own was not going to work.
The purpose of our military action was to degrade significantly Syrian Chemical Weapons capabilities and deter their future use. Everything possible was done to avoid escalation and to prevent civilian casualties.
This action was not about intervening in the civil war in Syria or about regime change but about protecting civilians and upholding and defending the global consensus of nearly 100 years that chemical weapons should not be used. It is absolutely right to try to prevent the use of chemical weapons, either in Syria or on the streets of the UK, to become normalised.
I would have preferred this action to have taken place with a direct and specific mandate from the United Nations. However as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has a power of veto. Unfortunately Russia has used its veto 12 times regarding Syria since the conflict began in 2011, including six times in relation to chemical weapons, and on at least three occasions in relation to ceasefires, which demonstrates the deadlock at the UN on this issue and the futility of holding back for such a mandate. This should not prevent action conducted in humanitarian interests.
As I made clear in the House of Commons, the Commons could not have voted to approve the decision to act without knowing precise information about what was envisaged: in particular its limited nature, what was being targeted and how civilians were to be kept safe. There is no way this information could have been presented to Parliament without compromising the operation and potentially compromising the safety of the RAF crews involved. That is why it would have been inappropriate and potentially reckless for the Government in these circumstances to have sought prior Parliamentary approval. I believe that it is right that the Prime Minister should have the flexibility to be able to act swiftly in authorising limited, proportionate action. However, when the Government decides to take action without a Parliamentary debate, it is right that Parliament is given an opportunity as soon as possible to give all Members the ability to question the decision and hold the Government to account. That is why the Prime Minister came to the House at the first opportunity and why the issue has been given significant Parliamentary time since then.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.