Belfast Telegraph

Syria air strikes must be debated, says former submarine commander UUP MLA

By Allan Preston

Ulster Unionist and Alliance MLAs have said any military action in Syria in the wake of a suspected chemical weapons attack must be backed by Parliament.

Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her cabinet for an emergency meeting yesterday as expectations mounted she would join the US in launching airstrikes against the Assad regime.

The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on a report that Royal Navy submarines had been ordered into range to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Mrs May also declined to confirm if she would start military action without seeking a vote in Parliament.

The UUP's Steve Aiken, a former submarine commander, said it was vital parliament was recalled to debate the matter.

"It's not just about the situation with Syria, it's also about the wider context with Russia," he said.

Yesterday an international watchdog on chemical weapons confirmed the findings of UK scientists over a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury.

"They made it clear it was a very high-grade piece of chemical weapons and obviously came from a state actor," said Mr Aiken.

"We've no doubt whatsoever it came from Russia. So this has the potential to escalate, so we need Parliament to come back and debate all the issues.

"If that is the case we should indeed be taking military action along with our allies to deal with this."

He continued: "The wider question is if this fits into what Russia is doing, if it's cyber attacks, use of chemical weapons on the streets of Ukraine, attempts to destabilise the electoral system across the west.

"All these things need to be considered, that's why we call for Parliament to be recalled to debate the issues and strengthen the Prime Minister's hand.

"I've no doubt Parliament will make the right decision and back the Prime Minister to support our allies in the United States and France."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, however, said no military intervention could be justified.

"We don't believe we have grounds for going to war in Syria," he said.

"I certainly would not wish to do so on the basis of a sabre-rattling President engaging in diplomacy via Twitter.

"I absolutely feel there should be a vote in Parliament before the Government makes such a decision. That was promised before and should stand now, it must be for Parliament to decide."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined other opposition parties and some Conservative backbenchers in demanding MPs are consulted before committing British forces.

"Parliament should always be given a say on any military action," he told the BBC. "What we don't want is bombardment which leads to escalation and leads to a hot war between Russia and America over the skies of Syria."

Pressure to commit has increased from Washington, with President Donald Trump commenting on Twitter that the missiles "will be coming."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said no final decisions had been taken and that "all options are on the table".

She made clear however that Mr Trump held Assad and his principal backer, Russia, responsible for what happened in the rebel-held town of Douma.

Belfast Telegraph

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