Monday, 30 November 2015

Syria ~ a vote in the House of Commons?

The voting:  

The government won its motion - 397 to 223

How they voted - The Guardian 3rd December

In the near future there may be a vote in the House of Commons on the question of whether to extend bombing to Islamic State targets in Syria.  The government has set out its case for doing this - (discussed in the previous post).  Political opposition to the extension of bombing is intense with most of the opposing views being focused on its effectiveness and the risks it entails - see, for example, some of the Other Links below and the interview of the Leader of the Opposition on the Andrew Marr programme (Sunday 29th November).  In the interview, Mr Corbyn spoke of the dangers of a bombing campaign and he questioned the government's claim that some 70,000 troops would be available to engage ISIL on the ground in Syria.  He wanted to see action to cut off supplies to ISIL of arms, oil and money. (Note: UNSCR 2249 refers to the financing of terrorism - see previous post).  The Prime Minister made it clear that any motion brought to the House would explicitly recognise that military action is not the whole answer - (PM statement 26th November).

In 2013, a vote took place on a rather different Syrian question - Chemical Weapons - see previous post.   In that post, I wrote:

"The law, by means of so-called Royal Prerogative powers, gives the executive immense power in a number of key areas of government: particularly, defence and foreign affairs.  The Royal Prerogative was examined in a House of Commons Library Note of 30th December 2009.  An earlier report was The Governance of Britain (July 2007) and also see the the report of the Public Administration Select Committee (4th March 2004) - Taming the Prerogative: Strengthening Ministerial Accountability to Parliament

The Select Committee wished to see greater parliamentary control over all the executive powers enjoyed by Ministers under the royal prerogative.  This would have included full parliamentary scrutiny of decisions on armed conflict.  At the time of the Select Committee's report, the events of the 2003 Iraq War were highly prominent and controversy continues to rage to this day.  The Chilcot Committee has not yet reported.

Interestingly, the government chose to put its case for Syria to the House of Commons and this has prompted Joshua Rozenberg to ask whether there is a new constitutional convention to the effect that the Commons will usually be consulted - Syria Intervention: is there a new constitutional convention - Guardian 2nd September."

It would appear that, as a matter of law, a vote on extending bombing to Syria is not required since the disposition of the armed forces of the Crown is within Royal Prerogative powers exercised nominally by Her Majesty but, in practice, by the government - see War Powers and Treaties.  (They might be more accurately termed "executive powers").  However that may be, the government has said that it will seek the authority of the House of Commons but the Prime Minister has also indicated that to lose the vote would hand a propaganda coup to ISIL - see detailed written response to Foreign Affairs Committee.  At the time of writing, the stance of the Opposition in Parliament is unclear and it is also not certain that all Conservative MPs would vote for the bombing. In these circumstances it remains to be seen whether the proposed vote will take place.


BBC News - Labour MPs will have a free vote on Syria though it remains party policy to oppose.

Other links:

Video - Syrian Civil War explained 

Watching the Law - Syria ~ the peace process

The Guardian 1st December 2015 - Comment is Free -   I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy

The Justice Gap - Andy Slaughter MP - Why I will vote against military action in Syria

1 comment:

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