UK plans to join US in airstrike campaign against forces of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, in event of future chemical weapon attacks on rebels.
The government is considering holding a vote to expand military action in Syria if the Conservatives win a big enough majority in the general election. Theresa May is believed to want Commons backing in order to have the freedom to join the US in airstrikes against the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the event of another chemical attack on the rebels, according to a Whitehall source.
The UK is keen to line up fully alongside the US– the country is already engaged alongside its American counterparts in military action in both Syria and Iraq against Islamic State, but has not joined in the airstrikes against Assad’s forces.
The US president, Donald Trump, in one of his first interventions overseas, ordered a strike against a Syrian airbase on 4 April after an alleged use of chemical weapons against rebels at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.
For the UK to mount similar punitive action against Syrian forces, the government would have to overturn a Common vote in 2013, when MPs, including Conservative rebels, voted against action against Assad after an earlier alleged chemical attack.
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said last month that the UK might launch such airstrikes without parliamentary approval, but it is understood that the government would rather get parliament’s backing.
The Conservatives are turning the election into one not only about Brexit but also defence, claiming that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would be weak on security issues. The UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system became an issue within days of the prime minister announcing the general election, and the Conservatives are also planning to push Corbyn over whether he would maintain existing levels of defence spending.