British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing pressure from the country’s main parties to put a possible military response in Syria back on the table.
According to a report in the Times of London, Cameron’s hasty decision to rule out action in Syria following a parliamentary vote last week rejecting intervention was taken to mean that Britain would not get involved even if the regime of President Bashar Assad would carry out an additional chemical weapons attack. This reportedly stunned even Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, the main opponent of the bill.
Calls to reconsider were led by Tory leader Lord Howard of Lympne, London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, and former Tory foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
“The Opposition in Parliament last week got itself into something of a muddle,” said Lord Howard, adding that he hoped the question to parliamentary approval would be reopened.
Lord Ashdown said that Miliband should hold a debate on the US evidence available since last Thursday’a parliamentary vote. “Of course the Government cannot ask Parliament (for which, read, in effect Mr Miliband) to think again. There’s nothing to stop Parliament deciding to do so in light of new developments,” he was quoted as saying.
A day after US President Barack Obama stepped back from his threat to launch an attack, deciding first to seek approval from Congress, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a series of interviews on the Sunday television news shows that the administration learned of the sarin use through samples of hair and blood provided to Washington by first responders in Damascus.
He added that federal officials had used these samples to determine the nature of the August 21 attack outside Damascus, which he said had killed 1,429 Syrians. He said the information only came to his attention in the last 24 hours.
Kerry said he was confident that Congress would give Obama its backing for a military strike against Syria. But the former senator also said the president has authority to act on his own if Congress doesn’t give its approval.
The Assad regime has denied using chemical weapons, calling such claims blatant lies.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph, London Mayor Johnson suggested that a new motion could be put before parliament “if there is new and better evidence that inculpates Assad.”
“If you add the Tories and Blairites together, there is a natural majority for a calibrated and limited response to a grotesque war crime,” he added.
Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary said that if there were “really significant developments in Syria” or al-Qaeda obtained chemical weapons, “then of course the Prime Minister has the right to bring that back to Parliament.”
“Up to 80 Tory and dozens of Lib Dem MPs still oppose British military intervention, but some of those who would vote against it now said that their view could change if more sarin attacks started to move public opinion. Labour says it will look at the evidence,” the Times of London wrote.