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Fri, 23 October 2020

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Shami Chakrabarti: No 'convincing evidence' for Syria bombing

Shami Chakrabarti: No 'convincing evidence' for Syria bombing
4 min read

Theresa May has not met her own legal tests for launching air strikes in Syria, Labour's Shadow Attorney General has said.

RAF jets joined United States and French forces in a series of strikes on Syrian facilities over the weekend, in the wake of a suspected chemical weapons attack that left scores of civilians dead.

Downing Street published a summary of its legal case for the strikes over the weekend, arguing that there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force”, and justifying the bombing on humanitarian grounds.

"The UK is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering," Number Ten said.

But Labour today went further in its criticism of British action, with Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti saying the Government had “not passed the tests it set for itself”.

The opposition frontbencher branded the doctrine of humanitarian intervention “embryonic at best and contentious at worst”, arguing that ministers could not point to widespread support for the strikes.

“I don’t think that the government can demonstrate convincing evidence and a general acceptance by the international community that they had to act in the way they did a few days ago,” she told the Today programme.

Baroness Chakrabarti also questioned whether ministers were able to conclusively prove that they had exhausted all options before launching the bombing.

She said: “How can they argue that when the chemicals weapons inspectors were on their way in?”

The Labour frontbencher insisted that UN action could have seen Russia - which has blocked 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions since the start of the bloody seven-year conflict in Syria - reach a compromise with the United States and its allies to allow independent chemical weapons inspections.

“Yes, there is a difference between the Russian and American draft resolutions that have been kicking around at the UN - but the difference is not necessarily as wide as some would suggest and there have been resolutions in recent years," she said.

The Shadow Attorney General added: “I go back to the test that the government itself has set - that there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole that this particular action had to happen because it was immediate and urgent.”

But, in a sign of division in Labour ranks over Syria, Baroness Chakrabarti's comments were immediately pounced on by Labour backbencher John Woodcock, a long-standing critic of the current Labour leadership.

Mr Woodcock, who last week called on his colleagues to "rise above" the leadership and back Syrian action, said: "I wish my frontbench would spend even a fraction of the energy on Assad and Russia’s grotesque slaughter of civilians as they are on inventing new reasons to oppose targeted UK intervention to stop it."



Meanwhile, fellow Labour MP Mike Gapes also hit out at Jeremy Corbyn, saying the Labour leader's stance on Syria would give Russia "a veto on UK action".




Labour’s challenge comes ahead of what is set to be a heated Commons debate this afternoon on the military action - with anger that MPs, who were not consulted before the strikes, will not be given a vote.

A Downing Street source confirmed that the debate would not be followed by a substantive vote, but said it would have "no bearing one way or another on there being a vote in the future".

In a Commons statement, the Prime Minister is expected to argue that the Government acted "because it is in our national interest to do so".

She will say: "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 - either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere."


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