On the morning of Saturday, April 14, feelings of dismay, disbelief and division engulfed Britain after the nation awoke to images of RAF tornadoes loaded with missiles taking to the night sky on flight to Syria.
The military action was Britain’s contribution to a coordinated airstrike in Syria with the U.S. and France to punish Assad regime for its alleged chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma a week earlier.
Now, far from being appeased by Prime Minister Theresa May's avowals that the UK "had no other choice" but to launch airstrikes on Syria, and that Britain had an obligation to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, aversion toward the country’s military involvement is snowballing.
The public's incredulity over the UK government’s decision to take part in the U.S.-led attack was heightened by the fact that May refused to seek parliamentary consent prior to launching the airstrikes. Suggestions have been made that the prime minister averted a Commons vote because she knew it was unlikely to win approval.
In response to May’s avoidance of parliamentary procedure, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a War Powers Act to be introduced. The act would stop May from launching bombing raids without consulting Members of Parliament first.
“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,” Corbyn said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the morning after the overnight raids on Syria. Corbyn has also questioned the legality of the attack because it was not backed by the United Nations Security Council.
In an emotional speech earlier this week in the House of Commons, Labour MP Alison McGovern urged fellow members to consider a “comprehensive strategy” in Syria to protect civilian life. Quoting her late friend and fellow Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far-right extremist after a constituency meeting in 2016 just prior to the Brexit vote, McGovern said that burying our head in the sand is not an option.
“We need to consider beginning a new road map here in the UK for Syria. We need to start from a simple question: What can be done to save human life? Not our simple short-term interests but the humanitarian principle.”
The intense debate and opposition growing aorund Britain’s decision to go hand-in-hand with Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron to bomb Syrian targets is by no means confined to Westminster.
The prime minister fought to defend her decision before a house of ruffled MPs demanding answers, as hundreds gathered in London’s Parliament Square. A sea of placards reading “Stop Bombing Syria” and “Not in My Name” accompanied chants of “One, two, three, four, we don’t want another war!” as protesters danced through Parliament Square.
Several MPs addressed the crowd, appealing to “get behind Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a War Powers Act.” Dismay was voiced about Theresa May following Donald Trump’s “whims”, as Labour MP for Leeds East Richard Burgon said: “This [military attack in Syria] does not help the Syrian people move closer to a peaceful, diplomatic solution. Peace won’t be advanced by the PM taking orders from Trump’s tweets.” Elsewhere, protests over the UK’s bombing of Syria have been bringing cities to a standstill. On the evening of April 16th, traffic was halted in Bristol city centre, where a large-scale protest took place in rush hour against western military action in Syria.
The rally, which was organised by Bristol Stop the War Coalition, saw hordes of activists and protesters gather in the city and march down Bristol’s streets. The protest was described as being different to other politically-inspired marches. As Bristol Live’s reporter noted: “While many of the usual faces from Bristol’s activism scene were present, the scale of the protest (at such short notice) set this march apart from many of the others. The Bristol Stop the War Coalition had just a few short days to organise this demonstration that saw hundreds of protesters block the streets and march during the busiest time of the day. The scores of marchers made a striking impression on bystanders with their booming cries of “don’t bomb Syria” and “Trump and May have got to go.” Stop the War Protests were also held in Swansea, Exeter and Milton Keynes, driven by the anti-war group’s message that “any Western attack would lead to more death and destruction and would deepen the misery of the Syrian people.”
The high level of opposition shown towards the UK’s aggressive intervention in Syrian is backed up by YouGov research, which reveals more people in Britain are against the UK and allied countries launching missile strikes against Syria than they are for it. The YouGov poll shows that fewer than a quarter of Britons (22%) say they are in support of such attacks, compared to 43% (almost twice as many) in opposition of the military action. This is despite the fact 61% of Britons believe that the Syrian government or their allies carried out the recent chemical attack in Douma. Jenny Madden, a 21-year-old student, summed up the aggrieved sentiment felt in Britain towards the Syrian airstrike, telling Occupy.com: “Theresa May and her allies couldn’t expect their decision to put more Syrian lives in danger, escalate conflict within a war-torn country and heighten tensions with Russia, to not lead to some kind of revolt?”