Portsmouth MP supports military strike on Syria

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Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt today supported a military strike on Syria as speculation grew that the Royal Navy would be involved in any attack.

The likelihood of direct military action appears to be growing amid international condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by President Assad’s regime.

Penny Mordaunt MP

Penny Mordaunt MP

But critics warn any such action could drag Britain and America into a lengthy conflict in the Middle East.

Today Ms Mordaunt said: ‘I am pleased that Parliament is being recalled to debate this - clearly there is a lot of angst about getting involved in a conflict and it is important that people should air their views.

‘But I believe that we cannot let the use of chemical weapons go unchallenged, so we have to decide whether to respond diplomatically or through force.

‘If we don’t do something and let this pass without sending a very clear message that no regime should do this, then we are allowing this to happen again in the future.

‘This is solely about chemical weapons and not about what else is happening in Syria. Of course there having been many appalling atrocities during this war but chemical weapons are particularly cruel and indiscriminate and have a last effect for generations to come. If we do not respond, their use will be the norm for years to come.

‘There is a whole raft of things we can do and it depends on what other countries would support this.

‘We must be clear that taking out Syria’s air defences would not be to intervene in the civil war but to send a clear and straightforward message that we will not accept the use of chemical weapons. Anything we do must be legal and accord with international law.

‘If taking out air defences is detrimental to Assad’s ability to keep the upper hand in Syria, then we will have sent him a clear message on any future use of chemical weapons.’

But a former First Sea Lord said today he was ‘extremely nervous’ about military intervention.

Lord West of Spithead, who was a security minister under Gordon Brown, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “An attack is extremely dangerous. You cannot predict what will happen. You have to ask yourself: will it actually further our global security or will it help the well-being of the Syrian people?”

Analysts say that any attack is likely to be launched from the sea as the Syrian air force has sufficient forces to pose a threat to incoming bomber jets.

The MoD will not discuss the location of its nuclear-powered submarines - one of which was used to in a missile blitz on Gaddafi forces in Libya in 2011 - but they regularly use the Suez Canal and one is thought to be in the area.

Several Royal Navy ships are already in the Med for exercises. The helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious left Portsmouth earlier this month to join the navy flagship HMS Bulwark, which sailed from Devonport for the Cougar ‘13 operation.

Other UK ships in the Med are the Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster and her sister ship HMS Montrose as well as six Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships.

America’s Sixth Fleet has four guided missile destroyers in the area, which could join the attack.

Britain is to seek UN Security Council backing for ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians’ in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

A UK-drafted draft resolution will be put to a meeting of the five permanent members in New York this evening ‘condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad’.

‘We’ve always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that,’ the Prime Minister said.

But with Russia and China expected to veto any Security Council resolution for action against Syria, Mr Hague insisted the international community still had a responsibility to act even if agreement could not be reached in New York.

Mr Hague said: ‘It is time the United Nations Security Council shoulders its responsibility on Syria which for the last two and a half years it has failed to do.

‘We have put forward to them a draft resolution which condemns the use of chemical weapons, which demands that the Assad regime cease to use such weapons and which resolves to do what is necessary to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people affected by chemical weapons attacks and to try to prevent the further use of the chemical stockpiles of the Assad regime.

‘I expect there will be further discussions in New York over the coming days but we have started those discussions about a UN resolution, because by far the best thing would be if the United Nations could be united, unlikely as that seems in the face of vetoes from Russia and China that we have had in the past, but we have to try to do that.

‘We are clear that if there can’t be agreement, if there isn’t agreement at the United Nations, then we still have a responsibility, we and other nations, still have a responsibility.’

Labour has made a fresh effort to secure UN backing for a military intervention one criterion for giving its support for the government in a vote when Parliament in recalled to discuss the UK’s response tomorrow.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon earlier urged the members of the Security Council to ‘find the unity to act’. Previous efforts to secure anti-Assad action have been vetoed by Russia and China.

‘The body entrusted with international peace and security cannot be missing in action,’ Mr Moon said.

‘The Council must find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace. The Syrian people deserve solutions, not silence.’

Moscow, which does not accept that there is evidence the regime was behind the deadly attack, maintained its opposition to military intervention.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned it would ‘lead to the long-term destabilisation of the situation in the country and the region’.

A senior Labour source said: “This is one necessary step.

“Ed Miliband made clear to David Cameron last night the importance of evidence from weapons inspectors and consideration of any action by the UN Security Council.

“We will continue to scrutinise any proposed action to ensure there is a proper legal base.”

Labour leader Mr Miliband indicated yesterday that his party would consider supporting international action, “but only on the basis that it was legal, that it was specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons, and that any actions contemplated had clear and achievable goals”.

Mr Cameron announced the move as he prepared to chair a meeting of the National Security Council at Number 10 to discuss the UK’s involvement in any military response.

Moscow is almost certain to use its veto as a permanent member - and China has also been consistent in blocking previous anti-Assad resolutions.

The Prime Minister will hope it will persuade MPs to support the Government when they are brought back early from their summer break tomorrow to debate the Syria crisis.

He has warned that the world cannot stand idly by and must take firm action to show that the use of chemical weapons - in Syria or anywhere else - could not be tolerated.

But he faces opposition to intervention from a number of his own backbenchers and polling shows the public is deeply reluctant for the UK to become embroiled in military action.

Former military chiefs have also issued stark warnings about the direction Mr Cameron is taking, warning that even a “surgical” missile strike could end up dragging the UK into deeper action.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury has urged MPs not to rush their decision, warning of the “unforeseeable ramifications”.

Mr Cameron has insisted that any intervention in Syria would not be about the conflict itself, but preventing the use of chemical weapons by any regime and would be “proportionate, have to be legal, would have to specifically be about deterring the use of chemical weapons”.

UN weapons inspectors were back at the site of the attack on the outskirts of the capital Damascus today but the UN Secretary General said the team needed “time to do its job”.

It has been made clear that military action could be taken before they have reported their final conclusions - which will look only at whether chemical weapons were used not who deployed them.

Mr Cameron held fresh talks with US President Barack Obama last night, after which Number 10 said they were “in no doubt that Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible for the toxic assault”.

“Both leaders agreed that all the information available confirmed a chemical weapons attack had taken place, noting that even the Iranian president and Syrian regime had conceded this.

“They both agreed they were in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible,” a spokesman said.

“Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time, and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack.”

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel has indicated that US forces “are ready to go” when Mr Obama gives the word.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Britain would “set a very dangerous precedent indeed” if it stood back and failed to act.

While political momentum towards intervention mounts, the British public has yet to be persuaded.

A YouGov survey for the Sun revealed that nearly three-quarters of people oppose the deployment of British troops to Syria, and a majority of 3-1 believe the Government should be bound by Parliament’s vote tomorrow.

In a speech in the Netherlands, the UN Secretary General urged the members of the Security Council to “find the unity to act”.

Syria was the “biggest challenge of war and peace in the world today”, he said in a speech in The Hague marking the centenary of the opening of the Peace Palace.

“We must pursue all avenues to get the parties to the negotiating table,” he said.

“The body entrusted with international peace and security cannot be missing in action. The Council must find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace.

“The war has created a lost generation of children and young people.

“The Syrian people deserve solutions, not silence. Our common humanity that all do their utmost to end this tragedy now.”

A Labour source confirmed that its MPs would be whipped to follow the party line in tomorrow’s Commons vote - as Tory and Liberal Democrat members are expected to be.

Conservative Sarah Wollaston, who has cautioned against a rush to military action, said a whipped vote “undermines democracy and is an abuse of power”.