MPs are still debating in the House of Commons whether to authorise the use of British warplanes against Isis in Iraq. It is all but certain that the vote, which takes place at 5pm this evening, will give that authorisation.
In his statement to the Commons, the Prime Minister was clear that air strikes would be confined to targets in Iraq. There would be no air strikes against Isis in Syria. Ed Miliband gave support for this action. The Iraqi government has made a request to Britain that it provide air support, said Miliband, and for this reason: “I believe the legal case is clear,” for strikes in that country.
But did Cameron want strikes in Syria too, only to be overruled by Miliband? As reported earlier on this blog, senior Labour figures were strongly against military action against Syria, as were a number of government back-bench MPs. The impression is that the Government privately campaigned for action in Syria only to realise that it would not receive support from Labour. Today’s motion in the Commons was amended accordingly.
When asked whether Ed Miliband had a veto on the Government’s decision-making process, a Number Ten spokesman remarked that: “It’s called parliamentary democracy,” a comment that is some distance from a firm no.
But it may be that such opposition to action in Syria is irrelevant—the Prime Minister has succeeded in preparing a situation in which he is able to order military operations without Parliamentary approval. In remarks to the House, Cameron commented that “if there is a critical British national interest at stake,” then he would consider authorising military action without a Commons vote.
A Number Ten spokesman confirmed this, saying that “If there is an urgent need… the PM reserves the right to take action… We do reserve the right in these very urgent cases.”
So although today’s vote only authorises action in Iraq, the Prime Minister has managed to create some very significant wiggle-room. MPs now know that, in extremis, Number Ten will make decisions without consultation, even if that means action against Isis in Syria.
Labour’s position remains that there can be no British military operations in Syria without a UN resolution giving authorisation. “What we have learned in these situations is to take one step at a time,” said a Labour party spokesman. However, this stance is problematic—Russia has made clear that it will veto any…