Report news now! Text pictures & video to 80360, starting message with WITNESS then leave a space
MPs 'must vote on Syria attack'
Douglas Alexander said Parliament should be recalled and given the chance to vote ahead of any action being taken in Syria
MPs should be given a vote before any British military action in Syria, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has demanded.
Prime Minister David Cameron returned early to Downing Street from a family holiday to prepare for a national security council (NSC) meeting on Wednesday which will discuss possible UK involvement in using force against the Assad regime over the use of chemical weapons. He is under pressure to recall Parliament to debate the crisis.
Mr Alexander said MPs should be allowed to decide on any intervention and said if the Government failed to convince the Commons, it would not have a "mandate in Parliament" for action.
A decision on whether to recall MPs and peers from their summer recess is expected later and Mr Alexander told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Of course Parliament should be consulted. I don't think there is any legitimate ground for Parliament not to be consulted. I accept that there will be specific military information that reasonably can't be shared. But it is absolutely the right of Parliament, and indeed of the public, to understand the evidence, to understand the case and to understand whether the objectives that are being set for the mission are adjudged to be credible and achievable." He added: "I think that there should be a vote in Parliament after the Government sets out its case."
Asked if the Government should adhere to the result of any vote, effectively giving MPs and peers a veto, he said: "I don't think it would have a mandate in Parliament, I can't state it more clearly than that." Labour MPs could be whipped to vote against action if the party was not convinced by the Government's case, he said.
Mr Alexander said: "I'm not convinced arming the rebels is an appropriate response. I'm unconvinced that an air campaign, which has been much discussed even this morning, can decisively resolve a conflict as complex as that which has unfolded over the last two years in Syria. But I do think it's legitimate for the Government to assess whether there are military steps that can be taken to prevent further chemical weapons use." He said Parliament should be recalled and given the chance to vote ahead of any action being taken.
Efforts to achieve United Nations backing for any action would be hampered by the opposition of Russia, which could veto any resolution against its ally Bashar Assad. Mr Alexander accepted that a UN Security Council resolution may not be necessary to justify the use of force. "There are circumstances in which military intervention has been justified and has been within international law without a Security Council resolution."
America has significantly toughened its rhetoric over what it described as the "undeniable" use of banned nerve agents by the Syrian government against an opposition-held suburb of the capital Damascus. US secretary of state John Kerry said the attack, which doctors say killed hundreds, was a "moral obscenity" that "should shock the conscience of the world" and promised action to hold the regime accountable. The mood darkened further when United Nations weapons inspectors investigating the claims came under sniper fire as they drove to the area, despite assurances of their safety from both sides in the civil war.
As he continued a round of diplomatic calls with world leaders, Mr Cameron clashed with Vladimir Putin over Russia's continued insistence that there is "no evidence" of a chemical attack. Assad denies using the weapons and Moscow - a key regime ally which supplies arms to Syria - has backed claims that video footage of victims could be opposition propaganda. It says military action would be a violation of international law and doomed to fail. The Prime Minister told Mr Putin there was "little doubt" the regime had used the weapons and then acted to cover up the evidence for five days before allowing the inspectors in, showing it had "something to hide".
Foreign Secretary William Hague suggested force could be legal even if Russia vetoed UN Security Council backing and declined to rule out action, such as targeted air strikes, being launched within days. Any intervention would be "in accordance with international law and will be based on legal advice to the national security council and to the Cabinet", Mr Hague stressed. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has cancelled a visit to UK troops serving in Afghanistan so he can attend the NSC meeting. A spokesman for Mr Clegg said he supported the need for a "strong response" from the international community to the "abhorrent" use of chemical weapons.