Britain Debates the Illegal Attack on Syria
Isabel Hardman reports on how the Syria intervention debate is developing in Britain:
Theresa May is holding an emergency Cabinet meeting today on how to respond to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria. Already sources are briefing that the Prime Minister is prepared to take military action without a vote in Parliament, which has naturally enraged a number of parliamentarians.
Jeremy Corbyn has said that ‘parliament should always be given a say on military action’, and the SNP have said that a failure to do so would be a ‘scandal’. As we know from the military interventions of the past few years, parliament does not have any formal right to a vote before action, but since the Iraq War, it has become the convention for Prime Ministers to seek approval from MPs anyway.
The House of Commons famously refused to support the proposed 2013 bombing of the Syrian government, and that result embarrassed Obama into seeking Congressional authorization that was not forthcoming. Parliament unexpectedly set in motion of a chain of events that halted the U.S.-led attack on Syria back then, and hawks in both the U.S. and Britain have bitterly regretted letting elected representatives have anything to do with foreign policy ever since. The 2013 popular backlash against unnecessary and illegal war was a remarkable episode that has sadly not been repeated in the years that followed.
Unfortunately, the lesson that leaders in both governments learned from the 2013 debate was that they should simply go ahead with unnecessary wars without consulting the legislature because if they ask for support for the latest intervention they might not get the answer they want. May doesn’t want to experience the repudiation that Cameron suffered, and so it seems she will ignore Parliament all together.
If there were a vote, May would probably lose. Katy Balls notes that attacking Syria is not very popular in Britain, according to the latest polling:
A Times/YouGov poll today on the public’s appetite for military intervention serves as a stark warning of problems ahead – just 22pc of the public backs airstrikes on Syria while another 34pc ‘don’t know’.
43% of the respondents in the poll said they were opposed. There is no popular appetite in Britain for attacking Syria’s government, and I suspect that the same is true here in the U.S. Our countries’ leaders are ignoring our representatives because they know they are about to embark on a wildly unpopular course of action that also happens to be illegal, dangerous, and wrong.