Time for a government investigation in the UK's role in supplying weapons to Syria

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Monday 10 April 2017 17:29 BST
An unconscious Syrian child awaits treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following the chemical attack last week
An unconscious Syrian child awaits treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following the chemical attack last week

It has been quite shocking for me to see the use of nerve agent sarin in the chemical attack that killed more than 80 and injured hundreds of others in Syria’s province of Idlib last week.

However, what is more disturbing, and what the British public have a right to know more about, is the role the UK Government played in the Assad regime’s development of a chemical weapons programme.

The UK Government has itself admitted that in the 1980s the UK exported the chemicals necessary to make sarin to the Syrian regime. The UK also sold specialist equipment after the millennium that, it now appears, was diverted to the chemical weapons programme.

In July 2014 the then-Foreign Secretary, William Hague, confirmed to Parliament that the UK had indeed exported chemicals that were likely to have been diverted for use in the Syrian programme.

He said: “We judge it likely that these chemical exports by UK companies were subsequently used by Syria in their programmes to produce nerve agents, including sarin.”

In the past the UK has been far too lax over the sale of such chemicals, something that improved with the implementation of EU-wide and other international measures. The UK should be ensuring that these standards aren’t compromised when pursuing Brexit trade deals and that all the relevant controls are maintained or tightened still further.

By the UK Government’s own admission, it has sold components to Syria that can be used in the production of chemical weapons. It must now conduct a full investigation to determine if they were used in these terrible attacks and publish a list of other regimes and governments they have been sold to.

Alex Orr

Nuclear fake news fears

Throughout the election campaign, a concern raised repeatedly was whether Donald Trump (the orange tweeter and fake news expert) could possibly be trusted with his finger on the nuclear button.

Now that Trump is in position, I can only suggest that so far nothing has lessened my concern. In fact, in view of the recent missile launch against Syria without congressional approval, nor any coherent policy in place, I can only suggest that the odds against mankind surviving his president have considerably shortened.

Of course, it could well be that he will leave it up to his daughter Ivanka to press the button, or possibly his son Barron? Though I suggest that the greater danger will be Mr Trump overhearing some fake news report on Fox News early one morning, prompting him to test the nuclear system.

Gunter Straub
London NW3

Trump should have done more

While I applauded Trump's decision to swiftly respond to the Assad's chemical attacks against his own people, I now doubt his seriousness, motivation and commitment.

It seems it was just a show to distract attention for a moment especially after his government is facing turmoil from within and from all directions. Why didn’t he destroy the runways in order to cripple Assad's ability to move? Why didn't he continue the mission until the monster is subdued and his killing machines are destroyed?

It was a pathetic response, an insult to the injury and a mockery out of this human catastrophe. He acted as a man of truth for a moment showing strength and courage to act but he failed to live up to his courage and became a laughing stock even to the regime he tried to punish.

What is happening in Syria is a tragedy of our time. We as humanity bear the responsibility for the mayhem that is happening there. Our leaders, our UN, are all hypocrites who should feel ashamed of themselves.

Abubakar N Kasim
Toronto, Canada

Syria: What led to the US airstrikes?

Rex Tillerson’s false words

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry on reading Rex Tillerson say: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.” Really, Mr Tillerson? Any and all? Do you mean that? Even the Prime Minister of Israel? Or that most moral army in the world, which shoots Palestinians on a whim? Or racist settler thugs in East Jerusalem? Crimes against innocents have been committed on a daily basis in Palestine for decades. How about starting to hold the guilty to account for them, Tillerson?

Elizabeth Morley

Syria suspicions

Why on earth would Syria's President Bashar al-Assad be so utterly reckless to bomb his own people using chemical weapons only days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the US had no quarrel with Syrian dictator?

There is simply no tactical logic behind such an action. President Trump was far more interested in prosecuting the war against Isis than in removing Assad. The Syrian President was well aware of this and understood from 2013, which was the last time he was accused of using chemical weapons, that to do so would elicit exactly the kind of air strikes against his regime that Trump ordered last Thursday.

I certainly wouldn't want to be seen as an apologist for a dictator who gasses his own people but where does the evidence come from that Assad's forces actually did this?

There has been no independent verification that Assad did it because no Western journalists work in Isis or al-Qaeda controlled territories for obvious reasons. The West's press simply has to go along with quite simply whatever they tell us.

Given that the United Nations has categorically stated that both sides have used chemical weapons in this war why has no serious consideration been given to the idea that what Assad’s forces may have done is accidently bombed a chemical weapons stockpile belonging to the opposition?

Or is this just another cynical maneuver by the powers that be to bounce us in to supporting yet another war?

Mark Holt

School senior staff budgets

You report on '“crippling budget cuts” to schools (More than half of schools forced to ask parents for financial help in past year, 9 April), but there is an important issue which is usually overlooked: the relentless expansion of school management teams. Not so long ago a small to medium-sized school would happily get by with one headteacher and a deputy. Now you'll find a head and four or five deputies. As a result, much of the regular staffing payroll has been taken away from front line of teaching and diverted into supporting bloated top-heavy management teams. Of course, much like the NHS, these are the very teams that allocate the school budget!

Arnie Donoff
London N11

Horse deaths on race tracks

While it's a relief that no horses died at Aintree over the weekend, the mere fact that this is a cause for celebration says everything that anyone should need to know about the Grand National and the horse-racing industry.

Hundreds of horses are killed on British racetracks every year – and for nothing more than a bet. And then there are the unseen victims, the thousands of foals bred for racing who don't make the grade and are either dumped at rescue charities, shot at stables or sold for meat. Even horse-racing stars have been sent to slaughter or found in a state of neglect, such as 1984 Grand National winner Hallo Dandy, who was found without proper food and shelter and covered with sores from rain scald. Forget the finish line – this deadly industry is all about the bottom line, where the horses are viewed as “replaceable” in the words of jockey Ruby Walsh.

Jennifer White
London N1

Climate tipping point

The news that the government is looking to scale down regulations surrounding climate change to help secure post Brexit trade proves that they still don’t get it. The Government, despite all the scientific evidence, still doesn’t understand that addressing climate change is not a lifestyle choice but a matter of survival. The world is creeping desperately ever closer to the tipping point when any chance of reversing climate change disappears. Addressing climate change is the major crisis facing the world today, not a bargaining chip in the latest phoney trade war.

Paul Donovan
London E11

EU expat rights

The best way to protect the rights of Britons who wish to remain EU citizens is for the other member states to allow them to apply for citizenship, with more generous criteria and a fast-track process, as put forward by the German Greens (Britons living in Germany ‘should have citizenship fast-tracked’, say Germany’s Green Party, 1 August).

In contrast, the piecemeal, pay-as-you-go “associate citizenship” floated by the Liberals in the European Parliament will do lasting damage to the principle of non-discrimination by entrenching a second class of citizens (European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator demands Theresa May back Britons who want to keep EU citizenship, 8 April).

To get the fast-track citizenship schemes set up, Europeans must lobby the EU 27 governments directly, aiming for an EU-wide directive to coordinate the schemes. This will be more effective than trying to influence the negotiations between the EU and the UK. In those talks, there are hundreds of other complex issues vying for attention, and any agreement would be contingent on bargaining and reciprocity. There is no time to waste in the two-year countdown.

The European Union is a union of citizens, not just of nation-states. This is the time to show solidarity towards fellow EU citizens.

Dr Kaihsu Tai
Helsinki, Finland

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