The world faces an alarming collection of international crises at a time of weak leadership at home and amongst our allies. From fighting in Gaza, to civil war in Ukraine and the advance of an extremist terrorist army across northern Iraq, there are profound causes for concern. What is the UK government’s strategic response to these? The Prime Minister may be talking about purely humanitarian intervention, but what makes him think that this is all that will be needed. Events don’t respect recess plans, Parliament needs to be recalled.
I find it increasingly difficult to divine any strategic principles underpinning government action in foreign affairs and defence commitments. We have seen an alarming absence of strategy over Ukraine, Gaza and now Iraq. Doing nothing on any of these three situations isn’t a sustainable position for Britain. But how do any of the individual decisions taken, either alone, or with the EU, NATO partners or the UN fit int0 an overall British strategy? I don’t think the government has one. And if it does, it had better come to Parliament in order to explain what it is.
Every action has consequences. The government says that Britain has committed to taking certain actions with our allies, such as humanitarian air-drops to refugees displaced by advancing extremists in northern Iraq. A commendable operation—but does anyone seriously think that these apparently clear lines aren’t going to blur in the coming days and weeks? The strategy and the string of individual decisions must be brought to Parliament and exposed to robust debate. If the government cannot make a successful case to MPs—as it failed to do in the Syria debate a year ago—then ministers better think again and come back with a better and more coherent plan.
The ministerial team in the Foreign Office, from the new Foreign Secretary, who as the Defence Secretary never showed much appetite for grand strategy, to junior ministers, has little experience in the posts. Michael Fallon in defence, is new too. Meetings of Cobra—the government’s emergency security committee—have been chaired by civil servants, and we hear that the former Foreign Secretary William Hague is not involved in decisions. The government needs to show that it has an internal approach that is coherent and then it must persuade parliament of its case.
It’s not just Iraq and Gaza—it’s from the Black Sea, to Afghanistan, from Egypt to Libya—events will take their course over the next few weeks and parliament cannot stand by without asking the government to explain, defend and justify Britain’s foreign policy actions.
This can’t be done by press statements and newspaper articles. It has to done by questions and debate in Parliament. That’s why I am asking for a recall before September.
Gisela Stuart is the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston