United Kingdom agrees on 'need to take action' over Syria

Clay Curtis
April 16, 2018

The statement made no direct reference to military action, but will be seen as a signal Britain would be prepared to join any US-led air strikes against the regime should the Americans decide to go ahead - putting it on a potential collision course with Assad's principal backer, Russia.

May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for a special cabinet meeting in Downing Street later on Thursday to discuss Britain's response to what she has cast as a barbaric attack that can not go unchallenged.

"Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons..."

May told her senior ministers on Thursday that the attack in Douma showed a "deeply concerning" erosion of global legal norms barring the use of chemical weapons.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons tweeted Thursday that a team of its investigators will start work Saturday in Douma.

But British involvement in further military intervention is controversial at home, in a country still haunted by its role in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they did not know if it was necessary to hold a parliamentary vote on whether London should engage in the military actions against Syria.

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May is not obliged to win parliament's approval, but a non-binding constitutional convention to do so has been established since a 2003 vote on joining the US -led invasion of Iraq.

Following the meeting, May spoke to Donald Trump and the pair agreed that the United Kingdom and the USA would "keep working closely together on the worldwide response", according to a statement from Downing Street. British media reported Wednesday that May has also ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria.

According to state-run Syrian News Agency (SANA), an official source at the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the government will cooperate fully with the OPCW fact-finding mission and that it would hold the West responsible for any delays in that mission.

A YouGov poll in The Times conducted this week found that 43 percent of voters oppose strikes in Syria, with 34 percent unsure and only 22 percent supportive.

Parliament voted down British military action against Assad's government in 2013, in an embarrassment for May's predecessor, David Cameron.

But they backed action in Iraq the following year, and again in Syria in 2015, strictly limiting strikes to Islamic State (IS) group targets. That then deterred the USA administration of Barack Obama from similar action. The United States, and the European Union put the blame for the incident on Damascus, which refuted the accusations.

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