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10 May, 2018

Letter from Britain: increasingly illiberal establishment and the challenge of Jeremy Corbyn

Britain prides itself on being a liberal state, tolerant of diverse points of view with a judicial system based on law and evidence, but its recent behavior has been anything but that.

by Alexander Mercouris

Part 3 - Sidestepping Parliament on Syria

If the handling of the Skripal case is troubling enough, the British government’s decision to involve Britain in Washington’s recent military strike against Syria is arguably more troubling still.

The pretext of the strike is an alleged chemical weapons attack which the Syrian authorities are alleged to have carried out against the rebel-held town of Duma, which is located in the East Ghouta area near Damascus.

The site of the alleged attack has since been secured by the Syrian and Russian militaries. Syria and Russia have both invited inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to inspect the site to establish whether or not a chemical weapons attack actually took place.

Yet notwithstanding that the OPCW was about to launch an investigation, which would have involved a site visit, and despite overwhelming opposition from the British public, only 20 percent of whom favoured a strike, the strike nonetheless took place with full British participation and without the British parliament being consulted in advance.

Moreover the British government made little secret that its decision to break convention and disregard Parliament was because it knew in advance that it would lose a vote if the decision to participate in the strike was ever put to one.

Here something must be said about that strange British creature, the “constitutional convention.”

Though such conventions do not in theory have the force of law in Britain, since Britain’s constitution (unlike the U.S. constitution) is largely unwritten, they are almost invariably treated as if they did.

Any British government that on a question of war or peace deliberately violates the convention that Parliament should be consulted in advance before any decision is taken would, if the British political system were working properly, be in serious trouble (especially if it knew it would have lost the vote.)

Not so in this case. British reporting of the Syria strike was strictly circumscribed, so much so, that publicly questioning the claim that a chemical weapons attack took place or arguing that nothing should be done before the OPCW completes its investigation, or that Parliament should have been consulted before a military action, rendered one, like in the Skripal case, a “useful idiot,” “conspiracy theorist” or Kremlin stooge.

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