So Parliament has been recalled and is debating the following Government Motion:
That this House:
Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;
Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;
Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;
Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;
Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;
Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;
Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and, whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;
Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and
Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.
The first point to make is how refreshing it is that the Government has sought the approval of the Speaker of the House to recall Parliament during the final days of the summer recess in order that this matter can be debated.
The second point to note is that the Joint Intelligence Committee has concluded and I quote from their letter to the Prime Minister: ‘it is highly likely that the regime was responsible for the Chemical Weapons attacks on 21st August.’
The third point is that the Government has made it clear it intends to try and secure United Nations Security Council resolution before taking any military action.
The fourth point to note is that the Government has published a summary of the legal advice it has received confirming that it would be appropriate for the international community to take action including military action if action is blocked in the Security Council.
Finally and crucially the Motion makes it clear that a further vote would be required in the House of Commons before any direct British involvement in military action is taken.
I do not want to see the UK drawn into the Civil War in Syria and I have consistently opposed any arming of the Syrian rebels. I do however accept that we as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the nation with the 4th largest military budget in the World has both a moral and a humanitarian obligation to uphold international conventions against the use of chemical weapons.
Understandably after what has happened in the past particularly in relation to the War on Iraq there is great scepticism about any UK military involvement. Despite my scepticism about involvement in Libya particularly about the exit strategy I accepted there was a need to prevent a humanitarian disaster and the mission was essentially successful in this regard.
I will be surprised if the House of Commons does not back the Government’s approach later this evening.