Prime Minister Theresa May has paved the way for the UK to join the US in missile attacks on Syria as she blamed the Assad regime for the Douma gas attack on Saturday which killed at least 40 people.
She said “all the indications” were that the Syrian regime was behind the attack on its own people as the US prepares to launch air strikes.
The Prime Minister did not indicate openly whether Britain would be involved in the military campaign but insisted continued attacks “cannot go unchallenged” as she pledged to continue working with the UK’s “closest allies” on how the dictatorship is held to account.
It was also reported last night that Mrs May is ready to join military action against the Assad regime in Syria without first seeking parliamentary consent. She is reportedly of the view that the need for a response is urgent.
Mrs May said: “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible and we will be working with our closest allies on how we can ensure that those who are responsible are held to account and how we can prevent and deter the humanitarian catastrophe that comes from the use of chemical weapons in the future.
“The continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged.”
Her remarks came after US President Trump issued a stark threat yesterday that missiles “will be coming” in response to the Syrian government’s suspected chemical attack that killed at least 40 people.
In an early morning tweet, Trump wrote: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and `smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said that the US president’s threats are “reckless” and endanger international peace and security.
Trump’s tweet also drew a quick response from Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Facebook that “smart” missiles would destroy any evidence of a chemical weapons attack.
The Prime Minister sidestepped questions over whether she was concerned about the US president’s tweet.
She told reporters during a visit to Birmingham that she was “appalled” but “not surprised” by Russia’s decision to veto a draft resolution at the United Nations on Tuesday which sought to create a new body to determine responsibility for the attack.
“There can be no role now for investigations by the United Nations,” Mrs May said.
She faces pressure to secure support from the Commons, which is currently in recess for Easter, for involving Britain in air strikes but has the power to take the decision without the backing of MPs.
Last night the SNP said it would be a “scandal” if Theresa May does not seek parliament’s permission to launch bombing raids on Syria.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said MPs must have a say over any change to the role of UK forces in Syria.
Mr McDonald said chemical weapons attacks in Syria should be condemned in the “strongest terms” and action taken to ensure they don’t happen again.
In his letter the SNP defence spokesman said: “I am not convinced that the retaliatory airstrikes being proposed by the United States is a proper way forward. Though should the UK government wish to participate then it must only do so if the UK parliament gives its consent.”
Yesterday US defence secretary Jim Mattis appeared to counter’s Trump’s warning by saying that evidence of what happened in Saturday’s suspected attack near Damascus is still being studied. “We’re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies,” Mattis said. “We’re still working on this.”
Asked whether the US military was ready to conduct an attack in Syria if ordered, Mattis replied: “We stand ready to provide military options if they’re appropriate, as the president determines.”
Trump did not detail what a strike would look like, or whether these would be US missiles. US officials have been consulting with global allies, including the UK, on a possible joint military response to Syria’s alleged poison gas attack. Trump cancelled a foreign trip to South America in order to manage a crisis that is testing his vow to stand up to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The term “smart” missile dates to the introduction decades ago of weapons with advanced guidance systems - for example, using GPS - to achieve greater precision in targeting. The term was meant to contrast with “dumb” bombs lacking such technology. Virtually all US missiles now have advanced guidance systems.
Russian politicians have warned the US that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct military clash between the two former Cold War adversaries. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted - a stark warning of a potential major confrontation.
Shortly after warning that missiles were coming, Trump tweeted that the US “relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.” Then, striking a more conciliatory tone, he said: “There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”
Trump’s administration has sought to show toughness on Russia, with a series of economic and diplomatic actions, including new sanctions last week against government officials and oligarchs. Trump has largely avoided criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin by name, though he singled him out in a tweet over the weekend for supporting Assad.
In the past, Trump has condemned others for forecasting military plans, repeatedly attacking President Barack Obama during the 2016 election campaign. During one speech, he said, “We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable.”
The US, Britain and France have been in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week. A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the US in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria’s political and military support from Russia and Iran.
French President Emmanuel Macron said his nation, the US and Britain will decide how to respond. He called for a “strong and joint response” to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday. The French president does not need parliamentary permission to launch a military operation.