UK ‘should act’ if chemical weapon use in Syria is proved

Children and adults are treated after a suspected chemical attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Picture: AFP/Getty
Children and adults are treated after a suspected chemical attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Britain should consider joining military action against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime if there is “incontrovertible” evidence he has used chemical weapons against his own people, Boris Johnson has said.

The Foreign Secretary said that while the West could not intervene to change the odds in favour of the rebels fighting the regime, he believed the use of illegal weapons should not go unpunished.

“It’s very important to recognise there’s no military solution that we in the West can now impose,” he told the BBC.

“The people listening to us, listening to this programme in eastern Ghouta cannot get the idea that the West is going to intervene to change the odds dramatically in their favour.

“But what I think we need to ask ourselves as a country, and I think what we in the West need to ask ourselves, is can we allow the use of chemical weapons, the use of these illegal weapons to go unreprieved, unchecked, unpunished? And I don’t think that we can.”

Mr Johnson’s comments came as a five-hour pause in the regime’s assault on the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, close to the capital Damascus, was beginning.

The respite was ordered by Mr Assad’s chief backer, Russia, which has said it would be repeated on a daily basis to allow civilians trapped by the fighting to leave.

However, it was later reported that no-one had managed to leave the besieged are during the “humanitarian pause”.

On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, but it did not set a specific start date.

More than 500 people have been killed since last week in eastern Ghouta, where activists on Sunday reported a suspected poison gas attack.

Mr Johnson added: “If there is incontrovertible evidence of the use of chemical weapons, verified by the OPCW [Office of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] – if we know that it’s happened and we can demonstrate it, and if there is a proposal for action where the UK could be useful, then I think we should seriously consider it.”

On Monday, Mr Johnson said he hopes the West “does not stand idly by” after the Labour MP John Woodcock said the bodies of victims “should be piled up in this chamber”.

In an urgent question to the Foreign Secretary, Mr Woodcock said: “The men and women of Ghouta who lie in pieces, deliberately targeted by Assad’s Russia-enabled bombs, the dead children whose faces are altered by the chlorine gas that choked them.

“They should not be strewn in the rubble of Eastern Ghouta. Those bodies should be piled up in this chamber and lain at the feet of governments of every single nation which continues to shrug in the face of this horror.”

Mr Johnson said the UK “missed our opportunity” to do something about the violence in Syria when MPs voted against airstrikes in 2013.