Russia-US tensions: Cabinet gives May the go-ahead for Syria strike 'to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime'

UK

Theresa May’s cabinet has agreed on the need to “take action” to deter use of chemical weapons following an emergency meeting at Downing Street.

The prime minister summoned her senior ministers to No 10 to discuss joining the United States and France in possible military strikes against Syria after saying “all the indications” were Bashar al-Assad‘s was responsible for a suspected nerve agent attack on civilians last weekend.

President Donald Trump had warned Russia of imminent military action in Syria, declaring missiles “will be coming” and denouncing Moscow for standing by Syria’s president, but on Thursday night the White House said that “no final decision” had been made about what Washington will do.

:: Follow our latest live coverage as Donald Trump and Theresa May agree on the need to ‘take action in Syria’

Mr Trump, Ms May and French President Emmanuel Macron have been in regular contact as they plot a course of action, with Mr Macron saying France has “proof” the Syrian government carried out the chemical attack which killed potentially doxens.

It followed the Kremlin’s insistence that it would shoot down any missiles and attack their source, in developments that have placed the two global and nuclear superpowers closer to open conflict than at any time since the Cold War.

Our live coverage has ended for now – but read a full account of the day’s events in the blog below. Please allow a few seconds for it to load.

Live Updates

1 day ago

Good morning, welcome to The Independent‘s live blog on Britain’s response to the escalating crisis in Syria, which is increasing tensions between the United States and Russia. 
Donald Trump has warned Moscow of imminent military action, declaring missiles “will be coming.” 
Ms May recalled her senior ministers from the Easter holiday for an emergency meeting in Downing Street amid signs she is preparing to join the US and France in strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 

1 day ago

Here’s our political editor, Joe Watts, with more details on Theresa May’s urgent cabinet meeting.

Theresa May calls urgent cabinet meeting over Britain’s response to Syria crisis

Theresa May has called an urgent cabinet meeting to approve Britain’s response to the escalating crisis in Syria, amid concern the UK will launch military action without consulting Parliament. Downing Street said Ms May and her top ministers would sit down, with the situation in the war-torn country the only item on their agenda.

1 day ago

No decision has been taken on government action in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said.
Mr Davis said we have “got to make a very careful, very deliberate judgement.”

1 day ago

Theresa May has reportedly ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria.
They were preparing for strikes against the Syrian military, which could begin as early as Thursday night, The Daily Telegraph said.
It quoted government sources saying Britain was “doing everything necessary” to be able to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles against military targets in Syria.

1 day ago

Mr Davis described the situation in Syria as horrific and said the use of chemical weapons is something the world has to prevent.
He added: “But also it is a very, very delicate circumstance, and we’ve got to make this judgment on a very careful, very deliberate, very well thought-through basis, knowing exactly… how strong the evidence is.”
Mr Davis, who voted against taking military action against Bashar al-Assad’s government in 2013, suggested he had changed his mind.
He said his decision then was based on a lack of clear evidence and a lack of a clear plan.
“Those two things, I’m assured, we will get an answer to today,” he said

1 day ago

How can we know that a chemical weapons attack took place in Syria?

Every atrocity in the Syrian civil war provokes a furious row about whether it happened and, if so, who was responsible for carrying it out. The merciless brutality of all sides combines with partisan reporting and lack of access for independent investigators to make it possible for doubts to be generated about even the most blatant war crime. One good rule is that participants in the war are often accurate about the crimes of their opponents while they invariably lie or are silent about their own.

1 day ago

Russia takes aim at ‘Twitter diplomacy’ in dig at Trump

It seemed almost appropriate for such strange times that the international crisis over the suspected chemical attack in Syria would be be played out in 280 characters or less. “Get ready Russia, because [the missiles] will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” wrote President Donald Trump in what seemed to be his first breath of the day. The belligerent message — which chopped 3% off the beleaguered Russian rouble in a quarter of an hour — was soon followed by a flourish of diplomacy.

1 day ago

France has said it will decide in the coming days whether to launch a military strike in Syria.
Its president, Emmanuel Macron, would decide whether to launch an attack over the “non-respect of the international convention against chemical weapons,” which is a “red line” for France, the country’s foreign minister said.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “We are very firm… as the president of the Republic said…. this situation can’t be tolerated.”
Asked about consulting the US, which has also threatened military action, Mr Le Drian said: “France is autonomous in taking its decisions.”

1 day ago

The Kremlin has said a “de-confliction” telephone line for Syria between the United States and Russia is active and is in use by both sides.
Moscow said Russia is closely following statements from Washington about Syria, but no phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is planned for now. 
It is extremely important to avoid any steps that could threaten to raise tensions, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, told Reuters.

1 day ago

The international chemical weapons watchdog has said it will issue a report at 12.15 on the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the town of Salisbury.

1 day ago

Bashar al-Assad has said any possible action by Western states will only cause more instability in the Middle East, Syrian state TV reported.
“With every victory achieved on the field, the voices of some Western states are raised and actions are intensified in an attempt by them to change the course of events … these voices and any possible action will contribute nothing but an increase in instability in the region, threatening international peace and security,” it quoted him saying.

1 day ago

The Syrian government is now in full control of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack over the weekend, the Russian military has announced.
Douma was the last rebel bastion in eastern Ghouta, the biggest rebel stronghold near Damascus.
On Sunday, rebel-group Jaish al-Islam agreed to withdraw hours after a suspected chemical weapons attack.
Both the Syrian regime and Russia have called reports of the attack bogus. 
“The raised state flag over a building in the town of Douma has heralded the control over this location and therefore over the whole of eastern Ghouta,” Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Syria, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
Russian military police were deployed in Douma in accordance with the rebel surrender deal, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

1 day ago

The nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury shows “how reckless Russia is prepared to be,” the head of GCHQ has said.
In his first public speech since taking over as head of Britain’s spy agency, Jeremy Fleming said the attack on the former Russian double agent demonstrated Russia’s “unacceptable” behaviour. 
“You’ve heard it said, and I’ll repeat, the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, was the first time a nerve agent had been deployed in Europe since the Second World War,” Mr Fleming told a cyber conference in Manchester.
“That’s sobering. It demonstrates how reckless Russia is prepared to be, how little the Kremlin cares for the international rules-based order.”

1 day ago

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, has said it would be “outrageous to bomb Syria without a vote in Parliament.”
“The convention that, Parliament must vote before putting our troops in harms way, should not be abandoned,” she said.

1 day ago

Jeremy Corbyn has condemned Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric on Syria and said: “More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life.”
The Labour leader was asked about the US president’s tweet yesterday in which he said “nice and new and ‘smart!”‘ missiles would soon be fired toward Syria.
Mr Corbyn said: “I think the whole world should be alarmed at that sort of instant reaction – sending stuff out on social media to make policy.
“What happened in Syria is disgraceful. Any use of chemical weapons by anybody against anybody else is clearly illegal as well as immoral and wrong.
“The United Nations has a duty and a function to ensure there’s a proper investigation undertaken as the inspectors are now in Douma doing just that and, when we’ve got the results of that, decide what action to take.
“But, I would just say this. Hundreds of thousands have died and lost their lives in Syria.
“Millions have been forced into refuge. Many are living in terrible poverty and desperation. There has to be a political solution.
“Russia, America, the European Union, all the neighbouring countries, Iran, Saudia Arabia have got to be involved in ensuring there is a real ceasefire and a political process that does give hope to the people of Syria in the future.
“More bombing, more killing, more war will not save life. It will just take more lives and spawn the war elsewhere.”

1 day ago

Jeremy Corbyn also demanded MPs be consulted before the UK joined any attack on Syria.
“Parliament must be consulted on this,” he said.
“Surely the lessons of Iraq, the lessons that came there from the Chilcott Report, are that there’s got to be, there has to be a proper process of consultation.
“We elect Parliament, we elect Members of Parliament.
“They should have a voice in this. Cabinet on its own should not be making this decision.
“I do urge people to look again at what Chilcott said about the evidence that was presented and the arguments that were presented.
“I want to see the whole picture on this because I want to see peace in Syria.
“I want to see an end to the war in Syria.
“That does mean America and Russia holding back, pulling back and talking to each other.
“The dangers of bombing now, which could escalate the conflict beyond belief. Just imagine the scenario if an American missile shoots down a Russian plane or vice versa. Where do we go from there?
“Surely, if we’ve learned nothing from the last 50 years of Cold War and the proxy wars since then [it is] the dangers of that.”

1 day ago

Donald Trump has said he “never said when an attack on Syria would take place.”
The US president tweeted to say an attack could be “very soon or not so soon at all!”
His tweet said: “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of Isis. Where is our “Thank you America?'”

Russia has repeatedly warned the West against attacking the infrastructure of Syria’s government and army, which is also supported by Iran.

Moscow has said there was no chemical attack in Douma, near the capital Damascus. 

Ms May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for a special cabinet meeting in Downing Street to discuss Britain’s response to what she has cast as a barbaric attack which cannot go unchallenged.

“The chemical weapons attack that took place on Saturday in Douma in Syria was a shocking and barbaric act,” Ms May said. “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible.”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had said it intends to send investigators to Douma to look for any evidence of a chemical attack.

Ms May has faced calls to wait for unequivocal proof of a chemical attack by the Assad regime before committing British forces to retaliatory action.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, joined other opposition parties, as well as some Conservative backbenchers, in insisting MPs must be have a say on any British involvement in military action.

However, Ms May faces growing impatience from Washington, after Mr Trump’s tweet to say the missiles “will be coming”.

The prime minister is not obliged to win parliament’s approval, but a non-binding constitutional convention to do so has been established since a 2003 vote on joining the US-led invasion of Iraq.

It has been observed in subsequent military deployments in Libya and Iraq.

Britain has been launching air strikes in Syria from its military base in Cyprus, but only against targets linked to Isis.

Parliament voted down British military action against Mr Assad’s government in 2013, in an embarrassment for David Cameron.

The vote deterred Barack Obama’s administration from similar action.

Additional reporting by agencies

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