It is inconceivable that Theresa May will refuse support to Macron’s France and Trump’s America in any military action – airborne – they are likely to take against Assad in Syria. If she did not manifest that solidarity, she would be snubbing the two governments and individuals who offered the most important cooperation she received in the international response to Russia’s perceived role in the Salisbury atrocity.
She would also be flagging that post-Brexit Britain lacks the confidence to take a leading role in maintaining global security – because no one doubts that British intelligence and ministers shares the presumption that Assad was to blame for the appalling use of chemical weapons on his compatriots.
She could of course stand up and make a principled speech about why military action is not the answer – as the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn may well do. That at least would be bold. But since she does not remotely think that would be appropriate, her choice is to join with the US and France – or meekly sit on the sidelines.
Her problem is that she knows that she must recall parliament to secure MPs’ underwriting of any significant military action – for all the craven and siren voices whispering in her ear that it may not be necessary.
After Iraq, Libya and even previous decisions in relation to intervention in Syria, to do otherwise would be a scandal. The Middle East and Syria represent such a crucible of instability for the world, the forces explicitly or implicitly facing each other – Saudi and Israel versus Iran, Russia versus America – are of such global significance, that to take action without exposing and debating the possible consequences would be to trample on democracy.
Here is the point: what on earth would military action actually look like that was a proper deterrent to Assad, but was not serious enough to be worthy of scrutiny by our elected representatives? Only the treacherous sophists could find an answer.
May would almost certainly win a parliamentary vote, because enough Labour MPs would vote with the government whether or not Corbyn would do so himself (probably not) and whether or not he gives them a three-line whip to vote against May (again probably not, say my sources).
Of course there is a risk for her of defeat. But funnily enough, that is what democracy is all about – and presumably it is that principle that all people must have a voice in matters of state that she would be fighting to see recognised in Syria.
This originally appeared on Robert Peston’s Facebook page