Jeremy Corbyn Secures Debate On MPs Approving Military Action As PM Refuses To Promise Vote Before More Syria Bombing

Graeme Demianyk

Jeremy Corbyn has secured an emergency debate in the House of Commons on the need for MPs to approve military interventions after Theresa May refused to confirm she will consult MPs before taking action in Syria.

In the Commons this afternoon, MPs from all sides questioned why May had not recalled Parliament before giving the green light to bombing targets in Syria in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Later, MPs supported an emergency debate application from the Labour leader which will allow them to consider the rights of Parliament to debate and approve military action by British forces overseas.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said the debate will be scheduled for Tuesday and last three hours.

After May’s three hours stint at the despatch box delivering her Syria statement and answering questions from MPs, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom suggested that there would be no extra general debate in Government time on Syria on Tuesday, despite previous suggestions to the contrary.

The convention of consulting MPs before authorising military action was established by Tony Blair in 2003 ahead of the Iraq War, but it is not a legal necessity.

After setting out her justification for joining with the US and France in carrying out the bombing raids on chemical weapon targets in the Middle East country, May was grilled on why she had not allowed MPs to vote on the attack.

Labour’s former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn said: “As someone who supported military action against Daesh in Syria in December 2015, may I say gently to the Prime Minister that she should have come first to the House before committing our forces to action.

“Therefore may I ask her to give us an assurance that in the event, heaven forbid, that President Assad chooses to use chemical weapons against innocent civilians once again, that she will come to Parliament first, that she will share such evidence as she can with us as she has done today and that she will trust Parliament to decide what is to be done?”

May replied: “I recognise the importance and significance of Parliament and Parliament being able to make its views known on these issues.

“But it is also important that the Government is able to act and there will always be circumstances in which it’s important for the Government to be able to act and for the operational security of our armed forces to be able to do so without that debate having taken place in Parliament.”

Labour’s former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper also pressured the Prime Minister to commit to coming to Parliament ahead of any further action, telling May: “Parliament has considered these kind of complex issues before.

“We have voted for and against military action, we have got things right and got things wrong and so too has the executive.”

She added: “Given the importance of us pioneering democratic values across the world can she clarify her position on this and say how important she thinks this it is for Parliament to decide issues of war and peace?”

May denied her Government was “rejecting” the convention that Parliament should have a say on military operations, adding: “It is right that I come to Parliament at the first opportunity to explain that decision and to give Members of this House an opportunity to question that and to hold me and the government to account.”

Conservative Ken Clarke, the longest serving MP, told May he fully supported the “proportionate targeted action” taken against the Syria, but also questioned why Parliament did not get a vote on the matter:

He said: “Surely once President Trump had announced to the world what he was proposing a widespread debate was taking place everywhere including many MPs in the media but no debate in Parliament.”

Clarke called for a commission to be created to “set out precisely what the role of Parliament is in modern times in the use of military power against another state”, and what the exceptions could be.

May did not back the request, and repeatedly referred to a Written Ministerial Statement from April 2016 which confirms the convention on consulting MPs could by bypassed “where there was an emergency and such action would not be appropriate.”

It adds: “The exception to the Convention is important to ensure that this and future Governments can use their judgement about how best to protect the security and interests of the UK.”