Kenilworth MP shares his thoughts on Syria airstrikes

The MP for Kenilworth and Southam, Jeremy Wright, has had his say on the Government's airstrikes on Syria which took place last Saturday (April 14).

Tuesday, 17th April 2018, 5:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th April 2018, 6:06 pm
Jeremy Wright MP has had his say on the recent airstrikes in Syria

Mr Wright said: "Last week, the United Kingdom engaged in military action in Syria alongside the United States and France.

"The decision to do so was one in which, as Attorney General, I was closely involved and which I am confident was the right one. I want to explain why.

"The appalling attacks by the Syrian regime on its own people have been beyond serious doubt for several years now, and some of those attacks have involved chemical weapons.

"That is not solely a judgment of British Intelligence agencies, but also confirmed by a number of international institutions.

"The use of chemical weapons is, of course, unlawful and particularly horrific. The pictures we saw in the wake of the latest attack, involving children as victims, were harrowing even by the desensitised standards of this bloody seven-year conflict.

"The intelligence and other evidence I have seen leaves me in no doubt the Assad regime was responsible.

"The United Kingdom is a nation with the capacity to do something about it. We have good intelligence on where the component parts of Syria’s chemical weapons programme are and we have the military resources to be able to attack them. The critical questions is should we do so?

"The first consideration is whether we can prevent these atrocities by non-military means – through diplomacy and, preferably, acting with others through the United Nations.

"That would indeed be preferable if it were achievable, but it is not.

"We have tried. Multiple efforts to restrict Syrian actions or even investigate them have been blocked by Russian vetoes on the UN Security Council. Without the consent of Russia, the UN cannot act.

"The second consideration is whether, in the absence of a UN resolution authorising the use of force against Syria, there can be any other valid legal basis to take military action.

"Not surprisingly, this is the question with which I have been most closely engaged.

"Since at least 1998, successive UK governments, including Labour governments, have concluded that, when there is humanitarian suffering on a large scale, the existence of which is widely accepted (clearly the case in Syria, exacerbated by the use of chemical weapons), where there is no practicable alternative to the use of force (the ever present Russian UN veto means this criterion is met in Syria too) and where the force used will be only what is necessary and proportionate to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in question, there is a legal basis to use force.

"It is worth considering what the position would be if there were not. If the only valid basis for action were a UN resolution, then a government likeSyria’s, protected by an unscrupulous permanent member of the Security Council which would always exercise its veto on that Government’s behalf, would be able to perpetrate huge and repeated attacks on its own people, with horrific and widespread effects, with no consequences for itself at all.

"I cannot accept that is right. Although it is true that support for the way we characterise this legal basis is not yet widespread, many nations have now confirmed that they regard what we did in Syria last week as necessary and legitimate.

"Then we must consider the consequences of our proposed military action. We targeted our strikes carefully – to hit sites of significance to the Syrians’ capacity to use chemical weapons in the future and to their willingness to do so.

"They were targets which could be hit without serious impact to civilian populations and they were hit at night when they would be expected to be empty of staff.

"We could, of course, have done nothing, either by deciding it was too difficult, or by insisting on a UN resolution we frankly know we would never get.

"The message sent to the Syrian regime, and other regimes like it, would have been unmistakeable – you can do your worst and the only nations on earth who might have stopped you will look the other way.

"We know that would mean more use of chemical weapons and more suffering. I do not believe that taking such an approach enables us to occupy the moral high ground.

"As a member of the Cabinet, I therefore gave my consent to the taking of military action on this occasion and I support the Prime Minister in the lonely decision she ultimately had to take to do so.

"There is one final consideration. Should Parliament have been asked to take this decision instead of Government? I do not believe so – for two reasons.

"First, the practical reality of decision-making in these circumstances is that no sensible decisions can be taken in the absence of sensitive intelligence and target set details that simply could not be shared with Parliament as a whole.

"Second, our system of Government relies for its effectiveness on some decisions being taken by Government, which takes responsibility for those decisions, rather than Parliament, whose role it is to hold Government to account for them.

"There is no convention that says that Parliament must sanction every use of force and no such convention could be workable. Governments must always be able to act urgently when necessary.

"So I have played my part in the making of this decision and anyone who has had to do so knows it is by no means easy. But I am confident I have done, and the Prime Minister has done, the right thing, because I know that the consequences of inaction would be greater than the consequences of the action we have taken.