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Corbyn struggles to contain Labour fury over Syria stance



  • Labour leader has made clear he does not believe UK strikes on Syria were legal
  • Insisted he would not countenance any military action without UN resolution 
  • Tories say Corbyn's position has consolidated support for Theresa May on Syria 
  • Labour deputy leader Tom Watson commissioned legal advice on the strikes  

By James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline

Published: 06:12 EDT, 16 April 2018 | Updated: 08:19 EDT, 16 April 2018

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In an interview yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn insisted he would never countenance military action without a UN resolution - even though Russia has the power to veto them
In an interview yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn insisted he would never countenance military action without a UN resolution - even though Russia has the power to veto them

In an interview yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn insisted he would never countenance military action without a UN resolution - even though Russia has the power to veto them

Jeremy Corbyn is struggling to contain a Labour backlash today after demanding Vladimir Putin is given the final say on British military action in Syria.

The party leader faces a wave of criticism in the Commons later after insisting he would never countenance deploying UK forces without a UN resolution - even though Russia has the power to veto them. 

Mr Corbyn has also caused anger by making clear he does not accept that the strikes on Bashar Assad's chemical weapons capability by the US, UK and France were legally justified on humanitarian grounds. 

Meanwhile, Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson today published a legal opinion written Dapo Akande, an Oxford professor of public international law, declaring the coalition strikes to be defiance of the United Nations Charter. 

Theresa May is set to come to parliament this afternoon to be grilled by MPs on her decision to join military action in Syria following the atrocity that killed around 75 people in Douma.

She is expected to be given a rough ride over her refusal to give the Commons a vote before the strikes took place.  

But a slew of Labour MPs have already broken cover to condemn Mr Corbyn's position. 

His performance on the BBC's Andrew Marr show yesterday also appears to have helped consolidated Tory and DUP support for Theresa May.

Senior MPs from both main parties now suspect any retrospective vote on the Syria strikes would be more likely to expose splits in Labour than the Tories.

One senior Conservative said: 'There is no appetite among our MPs to rebel against the PM.

'Labour have a far bigger problem than we do.'   

A senior Labour MP said: 'There are quite a lot of our side who support the action. I'm not sure forcing a vote now is a good idea.' 

Shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti today joined Mr Corbyn in dismissing the humanitarian justification for the strikes.

Theresa May, pictured at a Commonwealth conference today, is due to be grilled by MPs over the Syria strikes later this afternoon
Theresa May, pictured at a Commonwealth conference today, is due to be grilled by MPs over the Syria strikes later this afternoon

Theresa May, pictured at a Commonwealth conference today, is due to be grilled by MPs over the Syria strikes later this afternoon

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson today published a legal opinion written Dapo Akande, an Oxford professor of public international law, declaring the coalition strikes to be defiance of the United Nations Charter
Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson today published a legal opinion written Dapo Akande, an Oxford professor of public international law, declaring the coalition strikes to be defiance of the United Nations Charter

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson today published a legal opinion written Dapo Akande, an Oxford professor of public international law, declaring the coalition strikes to be defiance of the United Nations Charter

'You can't use force under international law just to punish Syria for bad behaviour,' she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'You have to actually be using urgent, necessary and proportionate force. And you have to do it with the will of the world behind you.'

But Labour backbencher John Woodcock said today: 'I wish my frontbench would spend even a fraction of the energy on Assad and Russia’s grotesque slaughter of civilians as they are on inventing new reasons to oppose targeted UK intervention to stop it.'

Fellow MP Mike Gapes, former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: 'Watched Corbyn interview on #Marr again. Sorry to say my Party is led by a man who questions Russian responsibility for Salisbury, who rejects action to stop Assad use of chemical weapons, who opposes Humanitarian intervention and gives Russia a veto on UK action. #NotInMyName.'

Mr Watson said the advice he had received from Mr Akande was from one of Britain's 'pre-eminent' legal experts on international law'.

It says the Government's position ignored laws about the use of force and did not comply with international doctrine on humanitarian intervention.

The advice also warns Mrs May's version of intervention based on humanitarian grounds was open to abuse.  

Mr Watson said: 'MPs and the public should not have to rely on the partial information about legality released by the government.

'There is a clear public interest in this expert and impartial advice from Professor Akande and that is why I am releasing it in full.

'The government should do the same with their advice.' 

The Labour leader also made clear he does not accept that the strikes on Syria by the UK, US and France were legally justified on humanitarian grounds
The Labour leader also made clear he does not accept that the strikes on Syria by the UK, US and France were legally justified on humanitarian grounds

The Labour leader also made clear he does not accept that the strikes on Syria by the UK, US and France were legally justified on humanitarian grounds

Labour backbencher John Woodcock made clear his concern at Mr Corbyn's approach
Labour backbencher John Woodcock made clear his concern at Mr Corbyn's approach

Labour backbencher John Woodcock made clear his concern at Mr Corbyn's approach

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Corbyn defied the growing weight of proof to again raised doubts about whether the Assad regime had been behind the attack that killed at least 75 people including children.

The veteran left-winger - who for decades has been urging NATO states to disarm and suggested the West was to blame for Russia's annexation of Crimea - claimed chlorine had been used by 'a number of parties in the conflict'. 

Asked if there were any circumstances in which he would back air strikes in Syria, Mr Corbyn replied: 'I can only countenance involvement in Syria if there is a UN authority behind it. 

'If we could get to a process in the UN where you get to a ceasefire, you get to a political solution, you then may well get to a situation where there could be a UN force established to enforce that ceasefire. That surely would save a lot of lives.'

Mr Corbyn was also challenged that he had previously opposed military action even when the UN had mandated it.

In 2015 he voted against UK involvement in airstrikes against ISIS in Syria - although many other Labour politicians supported the government.   

Mr Corbyn said that if Britain wants to 'get the moral high ground around the world' it must abide by international law for taking military action. 

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, pictured right on ITV's Peston programme yesterday, was among those who slammed Mr Corbyn's position
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, pictured right on ITV's Peston programme yesterday, was among those who slammed Mr Corbyn's position

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, pictured right on ITV's Peston programme yesterday, was among those who slammed Mr Corbyn's position

He said the humanitarian grounds used by the UK to justify strikes were 'debatable', saying he only believed self-defence and a UN resolution were enough.

'Where is the legal basis for this?' he said. 

Mr Corbyn said there should be a law that forced the PM to secure a Commons majority before taking action.

'I think what we need in this country is something more robust like a War Powers Act so that governments do get held to account by Parliament for what they do in our name,' he said.  

Labour MP Chuka Umunna was among those who slammed Mr Corbyn's position today.

He told ITV’s Peston programme: ‘It is unrealistic to expect to have unanimity in the international community to act.

'The problem the UN has at the moment is because of Russia and its inevitable veto.. the UN is rendered toothless.’

He added: ‘Ultimately you cannot have the use of chemical weapons go unanswered by the international community.

‘I don’t believe you should hide behind the ultimate veto by Russia at the UN security council.’  

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw praised French President Emmanuel Macron for his willingness to work with the wider UN general assembly, rather than relying on the security council.

In a pointed jibe at Mr Corbyn, he said: 'Others who simply parrot - “this must be resolved by the Security Council” - wilfully ignore Russia’s repeated vetoes - including of inspectors’ power to apportion blame for the attacks.' 

GCHQ is thought to be monitoring the web to pick up any signs of cyber aggression from the Kremlin, following the unified missile strikes on Syrian chemical basis in Damascus
GCHQ is thought to be monitoring the web to pick up any signs of cyber aggression from the Kremlin, following the unified missile strikes on Syrian chemical basis in Damascus

GCHQ is thought to be monitoring the web to pick up any signs of cyber aggression from the Kremlin, following the unified missile strikes on Syrian chemical basis in Damascus

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