U.K. Forces Would Have Been at Risk If Commons Consulted on Syria, May Says

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U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said British service men and women would have been put at risk if she had sought the backing of Parliament before joining airstrikes on Syrian military facilities last Saturday.

Defending her government from claims by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn that there should be a “war powers act” giving parliament a right to have a say over action by British forces, May said she needed to be able to act quickly to protect national security.

Theresa May on April 17.

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

“If I’d come here to make the case for action in advance, I could not have concealed our plans,” she told lawmakers on Tuesday, after explaining that the sophistication of Syrian air defenses meant surprise was a key element in the attacks. “I was not prepared to compromise their safety and the efficacy of the mission,” she said.

Corbyn, whose Labour Party is bitterly divided over the action -- which he opposed as “legally questionable” -- said the debate he had requested was “about process.” His colleagues are more united over the need for parliamentary scrutiny than the need for military action and it was a chance for him to present a united front in Parliament.

“Parliamentary approval can be crucial to ensure the democratic legitimacy of any planned military operation or warlike act, just as it can establish public consent for a government’s wider strategy,” Corbyn said. “The U.K. prime minister and the executive must be accountable to Parliament, not to any other government, let alone to the whims of any president or other head of state.”

May, who faced lawmakers for more than six hours on Monday, fiercely rejected the suggestion that Britain had acted on instructions from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Let nobody be in any doubt that neither I nor this government take instruction from any president,” May told lawmakers. “We act only in the national interest and that’s our only concern.”

May won a procedural vote, which noted that the issue had been “considered,” by 317 votes to 256.

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