17 Apr 2018

Theresa May wins vote on Syria

The practice that governments should come to the Commons to seek approval before pretty much all military action looked like it might be forming into a doctrine. In the last few days the government has seized the opportunity of the Syrian attacks to try to push back on that.

At last Thursday’s emergency Cabinet meeting to approve military strikes on Syrian defence installations, a chunk of the discussion was not just about the Syrian government’s actions but about whether Parliament should be consulted first. Only David Davis and Esther McVey dissented from the line that the Government should proceed without recalling Parliament or waiting for Parliament to return after the recess. Two sources from the meeting say they sensed that the Prime Minister clearly saw this not just as the right thing to do but as an opportunity to halt a slide towards Parliament deciding on all military action which could end up stopping any military action taking place.

This afternoon, in an emergency debate led by Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May pretty much spelt out that Parliament’s right to vote ahead of military action should be restricted to major military involvements like the 2003 war on Iraq. One former Cabinet minister said “when we use troops” is now the working notion of what triggers Commons involvement now.

Some old allies of David Cameron remember Theresa May being “very cool on getting involved in Syria” back in 2013 when Mr Cameron had to abandon his own planned military action after a Commons defeat. Now Mrs May wants the freedom to act and take the parliamentary consequences later. At the end of today’s emergency debate there was a vote on a neutral motion as required by the rules; “That this House has considered Parliament’s rights in relation to the approval of military action by British Forces overseas,” She won by 61 and will see that as a vindication of the strategy to try to reverse the fast drying cement she thought was forming around a convention on when the Commons should get a vote.

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