Theresa May, U.K. prime ministeR. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

May's Cabinet Says `Vital' to Respond to Syrian Chemical Attack

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. ministers agreed on the need to respond to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria over the weekend, suggesting Britain may participate in international military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“Following a discussion in which every member present made a contribution, cabinet agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said late Thursday in an emailed statement. “Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

The decision, following a cabinet meeting that lasted more than two hours, suggests May is prepared to join with U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron if military strikes are launched against Syria. While not explicitly endorsing military action, May’s ministers agreed she should continue to work with the two nations “to coordinate an international response.”

Although Britain has previously struck Islamic State targets in Iraq, it would be the country’s first military action against another state since 2011, when May’s predecessor, David Cameron, targeted Libya.

Consulting Parliament

May, as premier, can unilaterally declare war if she wants to, without consulting her cabinet. In practice, however, ever since Tony Blair set a precedent by seeking a vote to authorize the war in Iraq, British prime ministers have sought the permission of Parliament. Opposition parties have pressured May to follow that relatively recent convention. Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Thursday that “there has to be a proper process of consultation.’’

“Cabinet on its own should not be making this decision,’’ Corbyn said in a Sky News interview before the cabinet decision. “Parliament must be consulted on this.’’

The Scottish National Party, the U.K.’s third-biggest, on Thursday demanded an emergency session of Parliament, which is on recess this week. Its Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, told BBC Radio that May would have “no majority or mandate for military action” if there was an attempt to bypass Parliament.

Risky Vote

The danger for May if she goes to Parliament is that lawmakers could reject the prospect of military action, as it did in 2013 when Cameron unexpectedly lost a similar vote on Syria.

The possibility of a Parliamentary vote is complicated by the lawmakers’ recess. Parliament has been called into emergency session 29 times since 1948 and, at its quickest, that process has taken a day. Alternatively, if the U.S. and its allies launch a strike before Parliament returns next week, May could still participate and seek retroactive approval from lawmakers.

With tensions high in the Middle East, Trump planned to meet with his national security team Thursday to discuss his options in Syria, saying “We’re looking very very seriously, very closely at that whole situation, and we’ll see what happens folks, we’ll see what happens. It’s too bad that the world puts us in a position like that.”

Trump said on Twitter earlier in the day that a U.S. attack on Assad’s forces could come “very soon, or not so soon at all.”

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