By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will face criticism on Monday for bypassing parliament to join weekend air strikes against Syria, with some lawmakers calling for a potentially damaging vote on her future strategy.
May, who has regained confidence after winning support for her tough stance on Syria and Russia, will make a statement to parliament on her decision to join the United States and France in Saturday’s strikes in retaliation for a suspected gas attack.
She will repeat Saturday’s assertion that Britain is “confident in our own assessment that the Syrian regime was highly likely responsible” and that it could not wait “to alleviate further humanitarian suffering caused by chemical weapons attacks,” according to excerpts of her speech.
But she will be grilled over why she broke with a convention to seek parliamentary approval for the action, a decision that she and her ministers say was driven by the need to act quickly.
Much of the criticism will come from opposition lawmakers, but the prime minister may also have to work hard to defend her speed of action to members of her own Conservative Party who had wanted parliament recalled.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, has questioned the legal basis for Britain’s involvement.
“She could have recalled parliament last week,” the veteran peace campaigner said on Sunday.
“I think what we need in this country is something more robust, like a War Powers Act, so governments do get held to account by parliament for what they do in our name,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Britain has said there are no plans for future strikes against Syria, but foreign minister Boris Johnson warned President Bashar al-Assad that all options would be considered if chemical weapons were used against Syrians again.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, he again said the strikes were not aimed at regime change in Syria, but rather sent the message that the world has “had enough of the use of chemical weapons”.
Corbyn’s drive for legislation to limit the government’s power to launch future military action could win support in parliament, where some Conservatives have expressed fears that taking military action could worsen the situation in Syria.
Despite winning international backing, May, who has weathered questions over her leadership due to Brexit and party scandals, has a precarious position in parliament after losing the Conservatives’ majority in an ill-judged election in June.
She now relies on the support of a small Northern Irish party, which has supported the action in Syria, and has tried to dodge votes that might not go her way.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, whose Scottish Nationalist party has 35 seats in parliament, told the BBC there was a danger that the strike “makes the situation worse, not better.”
May’s predecessor, David Cameron, lost a vote on air strikes against Assad’s forces in 2013, with many in Britain wary of entering another conflict, especially after an inquiry concluded that then-prime minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the 2003 U.S.-led war against Iraq was based on flawed intelligence.
It was not clear whether Labour or other opposition parties would be able to force an emergency debate after May’s statement, or whether the speaker in the House of Commons would grant what one party source called a “meaningful vote.”
But in a sign that the government feels under pressure, one lawmaker said on condition of anonymity that the party’s whips, charged with maintaining voting discipline, had made clear that Conservatives should vote with the government.
May will also apply for an emergency debate to give lawmakers “an extended opportunity to discuss the military action,” her office said, in what could be an attempt to draw the sting out of any opposition motion for the same.
On Monday, May’s ministers stood by her decision to launch the strikes without parliamentary approval, saying only government had the access to the necessary intelligence.
“Outsourcing that decision to people who do not have the full picture is, I think, quite wrong,” International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt told BBC radio.
(additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Editing by Kevin Liffey)