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MP's statement to constituents on UK military action in Syria

Diana Johnson MP has issued the statement below to Hull North constituents who have contacted her following the UK's participation in missile strikes in Syria on 14 April 2018.

 

Thank you for contacting me about UK participation in recent missile strikes in Syria.
 
On 7 April in Douma, east of Damascus, the Assad regime used chemical weapons in an attack on non-combatant civilians. Young children were among the 75 killed. This violated International Humanitarian Law established nearly a century ago after the First World War. Those responsible must be held to account as war criminals.
 
Both the Assad regime and Daesh have used chemical weapons since the start of the seven year Syrian conflict. The Assad regime has used Sarin and Chlorine on several occasions – for example last year OPCW investigators found that the Syrian government used Sarin in April 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun. Daesh has used mustard gas a number of times. Assad has failed to meet undertakings to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons by 30 June 2014.
 
Assad’s latest atrocity in Douma also violates UN Resolution 2401 of 25 February 2018 calling for an immediate ceasefire in Syria. We have seen killing in Syria on such a scale that Europe has had the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Around 400,000 Syrian people had been killed by April 2016 – two years ago.
 
I welcome the investigation being carried out in Douma by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and call for their inspectors to have full access to all relevant sites – with or without the approval of the Syrian regime and its backers, who appear to be obstructing progress.
 
Labour has supported the call by the United Nations Secretary General for a full independent investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any party. However, prior to the military action of 14 April the Russian regime had already vetoed such an investigation at the UN on four occasions and vetoed broader action on Syria a total of twelve times. There could not be a clearer indication where guilt lies.
 
 
Up to a dozen regional and international powers, including Britain, are now involved in Syria’s civil war. As abhorrent as the Assad regime is, along with its supporters in the Putin regime and the Iranian Shia theocracy, the prominence of terrorist groups such as Daesh has meant that there has not yet been an obvious viable alternative Syrian government conducive with a peaceful, stable, democratic future for Syria and the wider region. Perhaps this will change as Daesh are defeated, but the reality on the ground in different parts of Syria will remain complex. This is not, however, a reason to allow breaches of international law through chemical weapons to be ignored.
 
Mere condemnation of war crimes is not enough to deter them - there must be justice too. I support a multilateral response to pursuing the illegal use of chemical weapons. But given the complicated situation on the ground in Syria none of this will happen overnight. 
 
The military action to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities took place on 14 April during Parliament’s recess. I believe it would have been better for the Prime Minister to consult Parliament in advance of the military strikes and she could have recalled Parliament before agreeing any action.
 
The Prime Minister set out the legal basis for the military intervention, and for the UK’s role in it, when she made her statement to the House on 16 April. 
 
The UK played only a minor part in this military action – firing eight missiles compared to over 118 by the USA. The British Prime Minister did not therefore lead on setting the timetable for the military action. One argument for launching the military action of 14 April before informing Parliament was to maintain the element of surprise. However, the Russians were informed of the military action in advance – before the UK Parliament - in order to avoid a potential escalation between nuclear powers. President Trump had announced his intention on Twitter on 11 April.
 
 
As you will be aware, the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn called a Commons debate on 17 April to express his support for a War Powers Act requiring MPs to authorise military action in advance - other than when the UK is responding to an urgent security threat. I certainly support this approach and it fits with the previous debates Parliament has had before UK military action has been agreed in 2013 and 2015.
 
In my view, there always needs to be clarity about the aims and scope of military action. Poorly planned and ill-targeted military operations risks further escalation and even more civilian deaths - without bringing to account those engaging in war crimes. However, I also recognise that well-targeted action could achieve the opposite, help bring peace closer and ultimately save lives.
 
The immediate humanitarian priority in Syria must be to halt the killing on all sides. I am proud that the UK has spent over £2.46bn on relief efforts in Syria since 2012, in contrast to the estimated £1.46bn that Russia has spent on military action in Syria in roughly the same time period.
 
I also provide a link below to a letter dated 18 April 2018 from the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, which sets out in some detail the Government’s approach to the humanitarian situation in Syria. See https://www.dropbox.com/s/srnckg005zr24om/20180420%20-%20DFID%20-%20Eastern%20Ghouta%20-%20Syria.pdf?dl=0
 
Thank you for contacting me about this important issue. 
 
Diana Johnson
MP for Hull North
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