Boris Johnson has raised the prospect of Western strikes on Syria if it is proved the country’s regime carried out a fresh chemical weapons attack.
The Foreign Secretary expressed hope “the West does not stand idly by” if evidence is produced to confirm claims President Bashar al-Assad’s government launched a deadly chlorine gas attack in rebel-held eastern Ghouta.
Mr Johnson praised US President Donald Trump’s action in launching dozens of Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase last year, after President Assad was previously found to have used a nerve gas in rebel-held areas.
Answering an urgent question on the current situation in Syria, after the United Nations described bombarded eastern Ghouta as “hell on Earth”, the Foreign Secretary told MPs: “Many people will believe the USA did exactly the right thing when they responded to the abomination of the attack at Khan Sheikhun in April with a strike at the Shayrat Airfield.”
He said that if the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons produces “incontrovertible evidence” of further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime or their supporters then he would “certainly hope very much that the West does not stand idly by”.
The Foreign Secretary described the reports of a chlorine has attack as “disturbing” and called for them to be “fully investigated”, with anyone found responsible to be “held accountable”.
On Saturday, the United Nations approved a resolution demanding a 30-day ceasefire amid the Assad regime’s assault on eastern Ghouta, with Russian support, where close to 400,000 civilians are trapped.
Mr Johnson called on the Syrian government to allow the delivery of humanitarian supplies in compliance with the UN Security Council action.
He described how “hundreds of thousands of civilians are going hungry in eastern Ghouta, only a few miles from UN warehouses in Damascus that are laden with food”.
However, recalling a House of Commons vote in 2013 to reject the possibility of UK military action in Syria to deter chemical weapons use, Mr Johnson told MPs to “recognise there is no military solution that we can impose”.
He said: “I think we all understand what took place and the gap we allowed to be opened up for the Russians and Iranians to come in and support the Assad regime.”
But Mr Johnson insisted he does not believe the Syrian regime will be able to secure a “complete military victory” in the war-torn country, as he urged the Assad’s Russian backers to use their influence over the dictator to help achieve a political solution.
He said: “The only way out of this mess, this morass, for the Russians is to go for a political solution.”
The Foreign Secretary, taking questions from the Labour benches, urged MPs to be “explicit” about whether they back military action, after the party failed to support a government motion in 2013.
In a fiery response to Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who asked why the UK is “standing idly by” during the continued bombardment of civilians in eastern Ghouta in breach of the UN resolution, Mr Johnson said: “To say we are standing idly by is to do grave disservice to the work of many, many hundreds of British people working for the Department of International Development, who are working in our military, who are doing all sorts of things on a budget of about £2.5bn.
“We’re the second biggest contributor in terms of humanitarian relief.”
Labour backbencher John Woodcock, who asked the urgent question in the House of Commons, told MPs the UN Security Council is “broken” due to Russian flouting of “basic laws”.
He said: “Being cowed into inaction by this strangulated body is a greater violation than seeking to act even without its own authorisation.”
Mr Woodcock called for the bodies of those being killed in eastern Ghouta to be “piled up in this chamber and lain at the feet of governments of every single nation which continues to shrug in the face of this horror”.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry described the situation in eastern Ghouta as a “war crime” but insisted Western military intervention would “simply prolong and deepen” the conflict in Syria.