“The images of death and intense suffering that have emerged from Douma following what is highly likely to have been a chemical attack last week are utterly appalling. Over 500 civilians, many of whom were children, have been chronically burned and disfigured, and at least 40 people have been killed.
The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. The emerging body of evidence points towards the Assad regime. Those responsible for these atrocities should be tried at The Hague.
But I firmly believe Parliament should have been recalled last week so that Members of Parliament could be consulted before air strikes were launched and the Government’s strategy could be scrutinised and held to account. Indeed, one of the main recommendations from the Chilcot Inquiry’s report highlighted the need for Government decision-making to be improved through increased consultation with Parliament. Further to this, in 2011, the then Conservative Foreign Secretary, William Hague said: “We will also enshrine in law for the future the necessity of consulting Parliament on military action”. I strongly support Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a ‘War Powers Act’ to ensure that the Prime Minister must consult Parliament before deploying our military in major interventions.
Seven years into a brutal conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and displaced millions, there is a pressing need to restart genuine negotiations towards peace.
What is not needed is a knee-jerk military response working to the timetable of Donald Trump. In launching air strikes over the weekend, the UK acted in advance of any independent report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) or any renewed UN investigation.
I believe OPCW Inspectors must have full access to the attack site, and I support the call by the UN Secretary General for a wider independent investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any party to the conflict. Its findings should then be considered by an urgent meeting of the United Nations’ Security Council.
Donald Trump’s erratic and unpredictable approach to policy decisions combined with Putin’s political agenda of aggression is creating a tinderbox in the region. We must counter this volatile approach to foreign policy. I urge the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to emphasise to their American counterparts the importance of the OPCW investigation and work to prevent any further escalation that could cause more civilian deaths.
Since this war began in 2011, over a dozen regional and international powers, including Britain, have become involved supporting different sides. Securing a peaceful end to the conflict; protecting the Syrian civilians who have already endured too much suffering and bringing those responsible for these attacks to account must be the priority of the international community.
As my voting record shows, I have consistently voted against military action in Syria, including the launch of airstrikes. Bombing Douma with our Typhoon and Tornado jets will not bring a swift end to this war, indeed it may well prolong it. It is not clear to me that further air strikes will help protect the innocent civilians who managed to avoid the horrific chemical attack.
I support the calls from key figures from the Labour front bench including Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, for a political settlement of the conflict in Syria, which includes the gradual withdrawal of foreign forces and the right of the Syrian people to determine their own future. There will of course be an important role for both the UK and the entire international community to play through emergency aid, humanitarian relief, and supporting the Syrian people to rebuild their communities.
I have already tabled a number of parliamentary questions to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence on this matter, and will be in the Chamber for the Prime Minister’s statement later today.”
Catherine West MP
Member of Parliament for Hornsey & Wood Green