Johnson: Difficult to say ‘no’ to Syria strike

27 Apr

Media captionForeign Secretary Boris Johnson tells Today the UK could help the US respond to a chemical attack in Syria

Boris Johnson says it would be very difficult for the UK to refuse the US if it asked for support in another military strike on Syria.

The foreign secretary said MPs would not necessarily have a vote on any proposed joint action.

The US carried out a missile strike against a Syrian air base days after a chemical attack that left 80 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad denied his forces were responsible.

Mr Johnson claimed the Assad regime had “unleashed murder upon his own citizens with weapons that were banned almost 100 years ago”.

In recent years the convention has been that MPs get a vote on military action, but with Parliament about to dissolve ahead of a general election that could be put in doubt.

Jeremy Corbyn has been highly critical of the latest US missile strike against Syria, saying it should not have acted without United Nations backing – putting him at odds with his deputy leader Tom Watson and former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn.

The Labour leader told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg: “I don’t see how more bombing would help,” adding that “all parties would have to be consulted” if there was a US request for an military strike.

SNP foreign affairs spokesman Alex Salmond said Mr Johnson’s comments were “significant” and “also dangerous”, arguing that the government needs to seek parliamentary authority for military action.

“Boris Johnson’s response to every single international situation is to agree or do whatever the Trump White House does – and I think the vast majority of the people in this country will look askance at having a ‘mini-me’ policy to President Trump,” he told the BBC.

In other general election developments:

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “The idea that the Conservatives are now increasingly beholden to Donald Trump is terrifying,” adding that “a unilateral, illegal intervention would be utterly counterproductive.”

The MPs spoke out after Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it would be very difficult if the US has a proposal to have some sort of action in response to a chemical weapons attack.

“And if they come to us and ask for our support – whether it’s with submarine-based cruise missiles in the Med… in my view – and I know it’s also the view of the prime minister – it would be difficult for us to say ‘no’.”

Asked if the Commons would need to be consulted ahead of any military strike, Mr Johnson commented: “I think that needs to be tested.”

Royal prerogative

Sources close to the foreign secretary told the BBC “there is no change in position”, saying this is all a hypothetical situation and Mr Johnson was not ruling out a parliamentary vote if the US make a request for support.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon claimed the UK government was “not committed to military action in Syria” when he was interviewed by the BBC on 7 April after US strikes on Syria.

“We’ve always made it clear now since 2003 that military action involving combat troops or combat aircraft, we would go to Parliament to seek the authority for that,” he told Today at the time.

“We’ve laid out that convention now. But we were not asked to support the US strikes.”

The law does not require the government to win a Commons vote before launching military action.

In deploying its armed forces, the government acts under the royal prerogative but because the UK’s constitution is largely unwritten, nobody is quite sure how far that extends.

In 2013, then Conservative prime minister David Cameron lost a Commons vote on possible UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to deter the use of chemical weapons.

The government motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272, ruling out joining US-led strikes.

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