Jeremy Corbyn has questioned whether humanitarian intervention can ever be a legal justification for launching military action, and called for a “war powers act” that would force future UK governments to seek approval from parliament.
Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, the Labour leader repeated his assertion that the bombing raids launched by the UK early on Saturday morning, in cooperation with the US and France, may have been illegal.
“If we want to get the moral high ground, as a country with a history of international involvement, then we need to abide by international law, and I say to the foreign secretary, and I say to the prime minister, where is the legal basis for this?” he said.
Legal advice published by the government on Saturday argued that in exceptional circumstances governments can take military action “in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering”.
However, Corbyn, a former chair of the Stop the War Coalition and longtime opponent of western intervention, said: “The legal basis would have to be self-defence, or the authority of the UN security council. Humanitarian intervention is a legally debatable concept at the present time.”
“I think parliament should have a say in this, and the prime minister could quite easily have done that,” Corbyn said. “What we need in this country is something more robust, like a war powers act, so that governments do get held to account by parliament for what they do in our name.”
“There’s one overwhelming reason why this was the right thing to do, and that is to deter the use of chemical weapons, not just by the Assad regime but around the world,” he said, describing the action as a response not only to the Douma attack but repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria in the past few years. “Finally the world has said, enough is enough.”
Asked about the legal case for military action, Johnson said: “If it acts as a deterrent, which I believe it will, then it can alleviate further humanitarian suffering.”
He added: “It’s important that we understand the limits of what we are trying to do. This is not going to turn the tide of the conflict in Syria; one can hope it encourages the Russians to the negotiating table in Geneva, to get a political process properly going – but that is, as it were, an extra. The primary purpose is to say no to the use of barbaric chemical weapons.”