Syria and Chemical Weapons

The Syrian Regime has used chemical weapons against its own citizens before so it is desperately tragic and terrifying to learn it has happened again. The Prime Minister has confirmed to me that she has access to intelligence which confirms they are again responsible for this latest attack.

An extract from her statement said:

"I cannot tell you everything. But let me give an example of some of the evidence that leads us to this conclusion. Open source accounts allege that a barrel bomb was used to deliver the chemicals. Multiple open source reports claim that a Regime helicopter was observed above the city of Douma on the evening of 7th April. The Opposition does not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.

And reliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials co-ordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine in Douma on 7th April. No other group could have carried out this attack. Indeed, Daesh for example does not even have a presence in Douma. And the fact of this attack should surprise no-one.

We know that the Syrian regime has an utterly abhorrent record of using chemical weapons against its own people. On 21st August 2013 over 800 people were killed and thousands more injured in a chemical attack also in Ghouta. There were 14 further smaller scale chemical attacks prior to that Summer. At Khan Shaykhun on 4th April last year, the Syrian Regime used sarin against its people killing around 100 with a further 500 casualties."

The action we took over the weekend with our American and French allies was extremely limited and tightly deployed. It was targeted purely to destroy Assad's chemical weapon manufacturing capability and deter his further use of chemical weapons in Syria or elsewhere. A chemical weapons storage and production facility, a key chemical weapons research centre and a military bunker involved in chemical weapons attacks were destroyed. No civilian casualties have been reported.

We are not seeking to instigate regime change nor intervene in a civil war.  The intention was narrowly aimed at preventing further humanitarian catastrophe and to restore the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.

The plan, as agreed by the Cabinet following advice from the Attorney General, Chief of Defence Staff and the National Security Council who had been updated on the assessment and intelligence picture, was legal on humanitarian grounds. Indeed, there was no plausible alternative because since 2013, the UN has been blocked by Russia from acting against the use of chemical weapons by Assad.  The Office for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed that Syria has not kept its promise to dismantle its chemical weapons programme.

I understand why some people feel Parliament should have debated and voted on such action. However, minority Government or otherwise, we have a Prime Minister for a reason. To digest the intelligence presented to her, make tough decisions when required and to lead.

You can read more about the clarity of our legal position here:

I have absolute confidence that our Prime Minister acted legally, properly, with our country's best interests in mind and focused on reducing Assad's ability to subject his people to more chemical attacks.