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Syria legal advice to be published
Legal advice on taking military action in Syria will be published later, Downing Street has confirmed.
MPs have been urged to give a united response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria after David Cameron was forced to concede that any decision on British involvement in military action should be delayed to give United Nations inspectors time to complete their work.
But Labour is continuing to push ahead with its own amendment and will only decide whether to support the Government's motion later in the day. A Labour source said: "We will be pressing ahead with our amendment. We believe it gives a clearer road map, sets out clearer criteria of what must be done before any military action is taken."
Opposition leader Ed Miliband said: "I'm clear that this is a very grave decision to take military action that the House of Commons would be making and I didn't think that that decision should be made on an artificial timetable when the House of Commons wouldn't even have seen the evidence today from the UN weapons inspectors. I'm determined to learn the lessons of the past, including Iraq, and we can't have the House of Commons being asked to write a blank cheque to the PM for military action."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Government "was bending over backwards" to try to address concerns over military action, including publishing advice from the Attorney General and the Joint Intelligence Committee. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think there is a great deal of understandable anxiety and concern and unease about what taking possibly military steps would mean for this country, for the world, for the region and so on. We had anticipated that. That is why we have said that we want the UN process to be followed, why we must listen to what the UN inspectors say, that's why we have been bending over backwards to both recall Parliament, now say there's going to be not one but two votes, to talk to the Opposition, to publish the legal advice from the Government as we will later this morning, to publish the advice and findings from the Joint Intelligence Committee, as we will this morning."
In the face of opposition from Labour and a potential revolt by backbenchers, the Prime Minister accepted a second vote in Parliament would be required to support direct UK military involvement in Syria once the UN process was complete. MPs who have been recalled to Parliament for an emergency session on the crisis will vote on a motion backing the principle of military action in response to a "crime against humanity" by Bashar Assad's regime. Downing Street said Mr Cameron was determined to act in a consensual way and had never ruled out a second vote, although he believed it would be "difficult".
The motion that the Prime Minister will present in the Commons states that the UN Security Council (UNSC) should consider a briefing from the inspectors and seek to agree a resolution on military strikes against Syria - although ministers conceded this was unlikely, given Russian and Chinese opposition. Crucially it states: "Before any direct British involvement in such action, a further vote of the House of Commons will take place."
Labour's decision not to back a vote on military action until the findings of the UN weapons inspectors have gone before the UN Security Council has sparked a furious response in Downing Street, it was reported.
But Mr Miliband insisted his position had remained the same since the Prime Minister first announced he was recalling Parliament. He said: "I've been very clear and consistent since Tuesday that there are three criteria that would need to be met for action to be undertaken. First of all the rule of law needs to be followed, including the United Nations processes. Secondly, that any action must have clear and achievable military objectives and third, that any action must be specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons. That's the position we have taken. I think it's the right position, I think it's the position the British people would expect us to take because this is such an important decision and it's got to be done, if it is done, in the right way."
The United Nations secretary-general confirmed that weapons inspectors will complete their investigation on Friday. In a tweet, a UN spokesman said: "UNSG told reporters in Vienna that Syria UN ChemicalWeapons team will finish work Friday & leave Saturday." It comes as US officials have said that intelligence linking Assad to the attack last week is no "slam dunk" and raised questions about whether the Syrian president ordered the attack. A report by the US director for national intelligence suggests Assad's forces are most likely responsible but also sets out the gaps in the intelligence picture, according to Associated Press.