British military officers will join the Prime Minister for talks later, to discuss the UK’s response to last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria.
The National Security Council, which also includes the Defence Secretary and intelligence chiefs, will meet at 12.
David Cameron set out the options he is considering for action against Syria in a telephone call to United States president Barack Obama last night, ahead of a meeting with military chiefs.
In the last hour he said Britain will ask the UN security council for backing.
US forces “are ready to go” and the UK’s National Security Council (NSC) will today consider military plans drawn up in response to last week’s chemical weapons attack that is claimed to have killed more than 350 Syrians.
The Prime Minister warned yesterday that the world cannot stand idly by and announced he was recalling Parliament to vote on Britain’s response.
But he faces opposition to intervention from a number of his own backbenchers and polling shows the public is deeply reluctant for the UK to become embroiled in military action. Former military chiefs have also issued stark warnings about the direction Mr Cameron is taking, warning that even a “surgical” missile strike could end up dragging the UK into deeper action. The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged MPs not to rush their decision, warning of the “unforeseeable ramifications”.
Mr Cameron and Mr Obama are in no doubt that Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible for the toxic assault on the outskirts of Damascus, Downing Street said.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The PM spoke to President Obama last night to further discuss the serious response to last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria. Ahead of today’s NSC, it was an opportunity for the PM to hear the latest US thinking on the issue and to set out the options being considered by the Government. Both leaders agreed that all the information available confirmed a chemical weapons attack had taken place, noting that even the Iranian president and Syrian regime had conceded this. And they both agreed they were in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible.
“Regime forces were carrying out a military operation to regain that area from the opposition at the time, and there is no evidence that the opposition has the capability to deliver such a chemical weapons attack. The PM confirmed that the Government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack.”
Mr Cameron has insisted that any intervention in Syria would not be about the conflict itself, but preventing the use of chemical weapons by any regime and would be “proportionate, have to be legal, would have to specifically be about deterring the use of chemical weapons”. He said: “Let me stress to people, this is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict. It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world should not stand idly by.”
The NSC includes Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Theresa May and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg among its members. Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned that Britain cannot let the use of chemical weapons to go unchallenged, saying Britain “cannot allow diplomatic paralysis to be a shield” for Assad.
Labour leader Ed Miliband indicated yesterday that his party would consider supporting international action, “but only on the basis that it was legal, that it was specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons, and that any actions contemplated had clear and achievable goals”. The Opposition has made clear to Mr Cameron that its support depends on assurances that fresh efforts will be made to secure United Nations backing. A senior source said: “As part of that legal justification, Labour is seeking the direct involvement of the UN through evidence from the weapons inspectors and consideration by the security council.”
While political momentum towards intervention mounts, the British public has yet to be persuaded. A YouGov survey for The Sun revealed that nearly three-quarters of people oppose the deployment of British troops to Syria, and a majority of 3-1 believe the Government should be bound by Parliament’s vote tomorrow.