Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting HG to 80360, or email us Click here for more details »
Labour to vote against Syria attack
Labour has confirmed it will vote against the principle of military intervention in Syria after the Government published legal advice supporting action.
Britain would be permitted to launch a targeted strike on humanitarian grounds, even if Russia and China block an agreement at the United Nations, according to documents published by Downing Street.
Evidence from the Joint Intelligence Committee found that a chemical weapons attack did occur in Damascus last week and it is "highly likely" that Bashar Assad's regime was responsible.
But Labour wants "compelling evidence" before committing its support for the Government's approach. A party source said: "We have been having increasing doubts about the opaque nature of the Government's motion. It does not mention anything about compelling evidence."
A No 10 spokeswoman said: "The judgment of the Joint Intelligence Committee is that a chemical weapons attack did occur in Damascus last week; that it is highly likely that the Syrian regime was responsible; that there is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability; and that no opposition group has the capability to conduct a chemical weapons attack on this scale. The Government's position on the legality of any action makes clear that if action in the UN Security Council (UNSC) is blocked, the UK would still be permitted, under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, to take exceptional measures including targeted military intervention in order to alleviate the overwhelming humanitarian suffering in Syria."
The JIC found there are "no plausible alternative scenarios" to Assad's regime being behind the attack and has given the Prime Minister full access to the "limited" and "highly sensitive" intelligence. It could not, however, come up with a "precise motivation" for the attack.
In a letter to Mr Cameron, its chairman Jon Day said: "There is little serious dispute that chemical attacks causing mass casualties on a larger scale than hitherto (including, we judge, at least 350 fatalities) took place. It is being claimed, including by the regime, that the attacks were either faked or undertaken by the Syrian Armed Opposition. We have tested this assertion using a wide range of intelligence and open sources, and invited HMG and outside experts to help us establish whether such a thing is possible. There is no credible intelligence or other evidence to substantiate the claims or the possession of CW (chemical weapons) by the opposition. The JIC has therefore concluded that there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility."
The attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus "amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity", according to the document setting out the Government's legal position. But the legal basis for military action would be on humanitarian grounds to relieve the suffering of the Syrian population by "deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons", it adds.
That holds in international law even if the UN Security Council fails to secure an agreement on international intervention as long as there is "convincing evidence" of extreme humanitarian distress, there is no "practicable alternative" to the use of force and and action is "necessary and proportionate". All three conditions "would clearly be met in this case", a summary of the Government's legal advice states. The legal note states that the Syrian regime's pattern of use of chemical weapons means it is likely that the regime will seek to use such weapons again and "continue frustrating the efforts" of the United Nations to investigate. Military strikes against specific targets would be "legally justifiable", it adds.
Labour sources said that the Government's motion "does not make it clear that the vote by the Security Council should come after the evidence" from weapons inspectors. He added that Labour could not support a motion which gave "in principle" support for military action. "Our position is clear: we want to see the UN weapons inspectors' report, we want to see the evidence which is available and then we want the Prime Minister to come back to the House of Commons. Because they seem to be regarding it as in principle support for military action, because of its opaque nature, we are going to vote against it."