Theresa May has given her strongest signal yet that Britain would support President Donald Trump in military action against the Syrian regime as the two leaders resolved “not to allow the use of chemical weapons to continue”.
The Prime Minister spoke to both Mr Trump and the French President Emmanuel Macron by telephone during which all three agreed that President Bashar al-Assad had shown “total disregard” for international laws against the use of such weapons.
A Trump official upped the diplomatic tension by describing the chemical attack on Douma, Syria, as “genocide” and saying a military response was “appropriate”.
Related: Theresa May condemns ‘barbaric attack’ in Syria ( ITN News )
Mr Macron said the three countries would decide “within days” how to respond and discussed the possibility of hitting Syria’s “chemical capacities”. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said: “All options are on the table.”
It came as Russia used its veto power at the UN Security Council on Tuesday evening against a US resolution to create a new expert body to determine responsibility for Syria chemical weapons attacks, a move expected to increase the likelihood of US military intervention.
Whitehall sources suggest Mrs May would prefer to have the backing of Parliament in any decision to join a military response against Syria, but with both Mr Trump and Mr Macron eager to strike swiftly, that option is unlikely to be open to the Prime Minister.
The Telegraph has learnt that no plans have been put in place to recall MPs before Monday, when they will return after the Easter recess, suggesting MrsMay has resigned herself to taking the decision in conjunction with her Cabinet, rather than seeking the support of the Commons.
Downing Street issued a more cautious statement that the White House, in which Number 10 said that the chemical attack “if confirmed” would represent fresh evidence of Assad’s “appalling cruelty”.
The White House’s version of the conversation between Mrs May and MrTrump contained no such caveat, saying simply that “both leaders condemned Syrian President Assad’s vicious disregard for human life”.
Decisions on deploying the Armed Forces are covered by Royal prerogative, meaning there is no legal requirement for Mrs May to seek the permission of Parliament to take part in air strikes.
A precedent has in recent years been established for giving Parliament a vote on military interventions, but Mrs May is aware that David Cameron suffered an embarrassing defeat over military action in Syria in 2013.
Boris Johnson is among those who believe there is no need for a vote, while Tom Tugendhat, Tory chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said there was a “clear case for action”.
Tony Blair, the former prime minister who set a precedent in 2003 for Parliament having a vote on military action abroad, said there was no need for a vote in the case of air strikes, rather than using ground forces.
But Julian Lewis, the Conservative chair of the Commons defence select committee, said that while Governments might have to act first and seek MPs’ approval later if the UK was under attack, a strike on another country was another matter, and Tory MP Bob Seely said the “right to debate should rest with Parliament”.
More than 40 MPs from opposition parties signed a motion calling for a vote on military action and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, called for a political solution in Syria rather than “megaphone diplomacy across the floor of the UN Security Council” between the US and Russia.
Mrs May chaired a meeting of the National Security Council, which includes the heads of Britain’s intelligence agencies, the Armed Forces and senior ministers, but Downing Street refused to discuss what it had decided.
A team of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is on its way to Douma and Mrs May said: “Obviously we are working urgently with our allies and partners to assess what has happened on the ground.
“If this is the responsibility of Assad’s regime in Syria then it’s yet another example of the brutality and brazen disregard for their people that they show.”
However, President Trump appears to be in no mood to wait for the inspectors’ findings, having said on Monday that he would decide within 48 hours how to respond. On Tuesday he cancelled a planned trip to Latin America in order to prepare to US response to the chemical attack.
Mr Trump is under growing pressure from Republican senators to follow through his tough rhetoric over the Syrian chemical attack with a military response.
Lindsay Graham, the Republican senator for South Carolina who regularly plays golf with Mr Trump, said that Mr Assad himself should be a target in any air strikes.
Mr Graham said that if Mr Trump failed to launch an attack it would be “the biggest mistake of his presidency”, leaving America looking “unreliable in the eyes of our allies”.
Kay Hutchison, US Permanent Representative to Nato, said: “We would call on Russia to do something. They are propping up Assad. They are helping him. They should do something to stop this kind of genocide. I think a military response is appropriate.”
Asked how Assad’s use of chemical weapons could be stopped, she said: “I think we do everything we can with the tools we have. I believe a military response, taking out perhaps some of the places where perhaps these missions are taking place, with the bases from which they are flying to drop chemical weapons, I think that is an appropriate response.
“The President is talking to other allies, I hope they will come to an agreement on a concerted effort.”
A Downing Street spokesman said of Mrs May’s calls with President Trump and President Macron: “They agreed that reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were utterly reprehensible and if confirmed, represented further evidence of the Assad regime’s appalling cruelty against its own people and total disregard for its legal obligations not to use these weapons.
“They agreed that the international community needed to respond to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
“They agreed they would continue working closely together and with international partners to ensure that those responsible were held to account.”
Mr Johnson criticised Russia after it vetoed an US-drafted resolution at the United Nations to create a new body to determine responsibility for the suspected Syria chemical weapons attack.
The Foreign Secretary described the move as “hugely disappointing” and accused Russia of “holding the Syrian people to political ransom”. (The Telegraph)