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THE most serious decision the Prime Minister can ever take is the decision to go to war.
When she does so, she must always bring the public and Parliament with her. With the military attack on Syria, Theresa May has failed on both accounts. Our Prime Minister — without a majority to call her own — didn’t even consult Parliament before Syria was bombed.
And of course, any action must be legal. I agree wholeheartedly with Jeremy Corbyn that this bombing was legally questionable.
We in Labour are clear: there can be no question of ignoring the use of chemical weapons. Their use constitutes a crime and those responsible must be held to account. In the seven-year war that engulfs Syria, both the Assad regime and Isis have been found responsible for the use of chemical weapons.
The Prime Minister should have allowed the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to do its work. That would have strengthened the international community in holding those responsible to account. Instead the inspectors were still on their way when the bombs were dropped.
So, as Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry quite rightly asked: “Why did we act so quickly? Because Donald Trump put out a tweet saying that he wanted to act within 48 hours.”
As Emily has also pointed out, senators and congressmen in the US raised concerns that action was taken too early.
One of the very first things that sparked my interest in internationalist politics was going down to London from Leeds for the February 15 2003 demonstration against Tony Blair’s plan to back George Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq. The important lessons of the Chilcot inquiry should not be carelessly cast aside.
Less than a decade after the war on Iraq, the lessons of the catastrophe of military intervention in Libya — where life for Libyans is worse and more dangerous that it was before intervention — also underlined the dangers of such interventions.
Al-Qaida, Islamic State and other such groups have prospered in the aftermath of that invasion. We have even seen the shocking scenes of African people being sold as slaves in Libya.
Now Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has warned that we are facing a new cold war. At no point in my life have I felt as genuinely worried for the future of our world as I do now.
In 2018, the centenary of the end of the first world war, we should all remember the very real consequences for ordinary people of all nationalities when “the Great Powers” come into conflict.
We must do all we can to avoid any escalation of the multi-sided war in Syria. We should all heed the law of unintended consequences.
The UN secretary-general rightly said that “there’s an obligation, particularly when dealing with matters of peace and security, to act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general.”
What kind of global message is sent by this decision by Theresa May to bomb Syria outside UN Charter?
It is widely recognised that the biggest humanitarian disaster in the world is in Yemen. What if another country unilaterally decided to bomb Saudi Arabia because of the role Saudi Arabia is playing in relation to Yemen?
Obviously we would not support that. But it is a real example of the kind of chaotic militaristic free for all that May’s decision to ignore the UN could unwittingly lead to.
As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has put it, “It is essential to insist on legality and on a UN sanction for any further military action.”
Labour believes the UK should be using its influence and playing a leadership role to bring about a ceasefire, not risk adding to this conflict.
Our position in the world is undermined when we want to insist that others abide by the UN rules if our own government does not.
Labour is right to call for a “War Powers Act.” If we are serious about our democracy, we must insist upon no less.
And if we are serious about world peace, we cannot operate as if the rules of the United Nations apply to other countries but not to our government.
Despite everything, the Prime Minister says that the bombing of Syria was “right and moral.”
As I told the Stop the War demonstration outside Parliament on Monday, it was wrong and immoral.
It is important that the anti-war movement continues to highlight how wrong this attack was with its rallies across the country.
It was wrong because May never waited for the weapons inspectors to do their job. It was wrong because she never waited for Parliament to have its say. It was wrong because she didn’t win the support of the British people who oppose this military action. It was wrong because she operated outside the United Nations Charter. It was wrong because it risks escalating a war that could involve up to a dozen countries.
But most of all it was wrong because this does not help the Syrian people move closer to a peaceful, diplomatic solution that they so desperately need.
There is no military solution to this conflict that has left nearly half a million dead and millions as refugees.
Peace won’t be advanced through more war. We need a prime minister who is prepared to put every effort into winning a diplomatic and peaceful solution. Under a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn we will have such leadership.
Richard Burgon is MP for Leeds East and shadow secretary of state for justice.
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