Yesterday, the House voted in favour of military action in Syria following the chemical weapons attack that took place in Douma on 7 April. This was a barbaric attack, costing the lives of up to 75 people, including young children, with as many as 500 further casualties. The Government has worked with its allies to establish what happened and all indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack. UK medical and scientific experts have analysed open-source reports, images and video footage from the incident and concluded that the victims were exposed to a toxic chemical. A significant body of intelligence indicates that the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. These reports are consistent with previous regime attacks, including the attack on 21 August 2013, where over 800 people were killed and thousands more injured in Ghouta. Based on this, I took the decision to support the Government in its action against the Assad regime, not because I am a Minister and bound by collective responsibility but because I believe it to be the right thing to do.
I must confess I have been sceptical about military action in Syria in the past, however, this Government has explored every possible diplomatic channel to deter the regime from further use of chemical weapons to no avail. On 10 April, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which would have established an independent investigative mechanism. This follows their blocking of a similar resolution last year after the appalling chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, and is their 6th veto on the subject of chemical weapons use in Syria since February 2017.
The Government has published the legal basis for this action which required three conditions to be met. Firstly, there must be convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief. Secondly, it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved. Thirdly, the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian suffering, and must be strictly limited in time and in scope to this aim.
I believe it is right to view the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people as a red line. The upholding of international law is of utmost importance here, which is why I think co-ordinated airstrikes to degrade the regime’s chemical weapon capability is a sensible and proportional response. Based on the regime’s persistent pattern of behaviour and the cumulative analysis of specific incidents, we judged we needed to intervene rapidly to alleviate further human suffering. Therefore the UK, US and France made targeted and limited strikes against three sites in Syria. The targets were carefully selected to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.
It is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used, for we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere. I am certain we will have all preferred an alternative path but on this occasion there was none.
I appreciate that my support of this course of action will be a disappointment to a number of my constituents who have written to me but I should like to stress that this is not a decision I have taken lightly.