…Theresa May calls an urgent Cabinet meeting over the Syrian chemical attack
The world is braced for war tonight after Theresa May reportedly ordered submarines to move within missile range of Syria. The Prime Minister will summon top ministers to Downing Street on Thursday to discuss Britain’s response to the Syria chemical attack.
She convened the urgent meeting of the Cabinet four full days before Parliament returns from its Easter break.
And on Wednesday, Mrs May gave her strongest statement yet laying the blame for a deadly chemical attack at Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s door.
Donald Trump demanded Assad’s Russian backers “get ready” for missiles – while the White House refused to rule out direct conflict with Russia.
And Mrs May, who Trump wants to team up with in his response to the attack, said: “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible.”
Speaking after visiting a Sikh centre in Walsall, the PM declared: “The use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged.”
Tonight a Whitehall source told the Daily Telegraph any action would happen before MPs return from their Easter break on Monday.
That could scupper any attempt to hold a Parliamentary vote on military action – a key demand by Jeremy Corbyn.
The Telegraph was told: “We are moving subs in, we are doing everything necessary operationally to do that.
“If any action is going to happen it is going to happen before Monday because once you start having a debate about it, it will be very difficult for Number 10 to do anything.”
The Telegraph reported Britain has three Astute Class or three Trafalgar Class submarines it could send towards Syria.
Astute Class are the largest and most powerful attack submarines in the Royal Navy and their Tomahawk IV missiles have a range of more than 1,000 miles.
Donald Trump tonight once again blamed Russia and Syria for the attack. Asked if the US was prepared for the possibility of “direct military engagement with Russia”, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders replied: “All options are on the table.”
Asked if the US could “target Russian assets or personnel in Syria directly”, she said: “We’re maintaining we have a number of options and all of those options are still on the table.
“Final decisions haven’t been made yet.”
Earlier the US President had blasted Vladimir Putin for supporting “Gas Killing Animal” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an extraordinary Twitter threat.
Moscow had vowed to attack any planes and ships that launched strikes on Syria.
Its ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, said: “If there is a strike by the Americans then … the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired.”
So Trump appeared to pave the way for air strikes, tweeting: “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'”.
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded MPs get a vote in Parliament on any military action.
He said on Wednesday, “Parliament should always be given a say on military action.
“That’s a case that I’ve made going back many, many years in parliament.
“Obviously the situation is very serious, obviously there has to be, now, a demand for a political process to end the war in Syria.
“We cannot risk an escalation even further than it’s gone already.”
When asked if she would recall parliament, Mrs May declined to directly answer the question.
Instead she said she was working with allies to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons.
Several Tory MPs, including Andrew Percy who opposed military action in 2013, said they would back military action now. Tory Sarah Wollaston added: “It’s time to act.”
But Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said: “There must be a debate and vote in the House of Commons ahead of any military action.”
Labour left-wing shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon added: “At no point in my life have I been as genuinely worried for the future of our world.
“Any military intervention could escalate rapidly. Those beating the drums of war need to step back and let the OPCW do their job.”
The World Health Organization confirmed 43 people died in the Douma attack on Saturday from “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”.
The figure, specifically for those whose symptoms were linked to chemical exposure, is slightly lower than the 70 reported dead overall previously.
Earlier Russia announced it will send troops tomorrow into Douma, the Syrian town hit by Saturday’s chemical attack.
Russian military police will enter Douma to “maintain law and order”, state news agency TASS reported – triggering a fresh countdown.
It came just as the 48 hour period Donald Trump said he would use to decide on action expired.
Time is ticking because both sides fear the other could try to destroy evidence of the attack, which left dozens dead including children on Saturday.
But tonight the White House and Downing Street sources both insisted there was no set timescale for taking action.
The world chemical weapons watchdog will hold a special session on Monday, Reuters reported.
US-led calls for a wider inquiry into the attack were vetoed by Russia at the United Nations last night.
Russia claimed any US airstrike could be a bid to destroy evidence of the chemical attack – and suggested it was faked by Syria’s White Helmets volunteers.
Meanwhile, it appeared Trump’s tweet caught the UK and French Government by surprise.
The US, Britain and France were understood to be seeking to carefully gather further evidence of whether the Assad regime was behind Saturday’s attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
The war of words between the US and Russia sparked growing concerns that the Syrian civil war could spiral into a broader conflict.
General Sir Richard Barrons, who led UK Joint Forces Command from 2013 to 2016, warned: “I hope the ambassador has chosen his words very carefully.
“What he is actually saying is if the US and allies decide to strike against Syrian chemical weapons and delivery aircraft, not only are they going to try to shoot down the missiles, which they are capable of doing but won’t be with total success.
“But by saying ‘launch platforms’, he’s saying they are going to try and sink ships, sink submarines and shoot aircraft out of the sky.