Commons Debate 170418

Theresa May has warned that British lives would be compromised if it became illegal for governments to launch military action without the backing of MPs.

The Prime Minister said Mr Corbyn's calls for the introduction of a War Powers Act would "seriously compromise" national security, national interests, and the lives of citizens at home and abroad.

But the Labour leader, opening the second emergency debate in as many days on Britain's role in missile strikes on Syria's chemical warfare facilities, said Mrs May's predecessor, David Cameron, had sought authority for military action on several occasions.

Mr Corbyn, believes the principle of seeking Parliamentary approval for acts of warfare, which has been in use since the Iraq War in 2003, should now be "enshrined in law".

"It is important that our armed forces know that they have the democratic backing of Parliament," he said.

Several Labour MPs defied Mr Corbyn's request to vote against the emergency debate motion, as the Opposition sought to express its dissatisfaction at the Government's treatment of Parliament in relation to the military action in Syria.

The motion, which stated the House of Commons has considered Parliament's rights in relation to the approval of military action by British forces overseas, was approved by 317 to 256 - majority 61.

It was initially tabled by Labour to secure the debate and was supported by 307 Conservatives and 10 DUP MPs.

Of Labour's 259 MPs, 205 voted against the motion - in line with Mr Corbyn's request - with two also acting as tellers for the noes.

Jeremy Corbyn Commons Debate 170418

Opening the debate, Mr Corbyn said: "I am sorry to say the Prime Minister's decision not to recall Parliament and engage in further military action in Syria last week showed a flagrant disregard for this convention."

Mr Corbyn went on to say that enshrining the right of elected MPs to decide on matters of war "is an essential, vital development of hundreds of years of democratic development and parliamentary accountability".

Such a move was supported by the general public and the findings of the Chilcot report, he said.

Mr Corbyn added: "A War Powers Act could specify at what point in decision-making processes MPs should be involved, as well as retaining the right of ministers to act in an emergency or in the country's self-defence.

"Yet Government policy now seems to have shifted against this process."

Theresa May  Commons Debate 170418

In response Prime Minister Theresa May began by paying tribute to the "professionalism, dedication and courage" of the Armed Forces.

She said: "There is no graver decision for a Prime Minister than to commit our service men and women to combat operations." 

"Understanding where authority and accountability for their deployment and employment lies is of vital importance.

"So let me begin by being absolutely clear about the Government's policy in relation to the convention that has developed, because there is a fundamental difference between the policy and the perception of it that is conveyed in the motion before us today."

Mrs May went on to tell MPs that while she accepted the principle that elected members should be allowed to debate the deployment of forces, it was not right that this applied to "every possible overseas mission".

Mrs May said it was "right" that she took the decision on the military strike, and told MPs that coming to Parliament before undertaking military action would "compromise the effectiveness of our operations and safety of British servicemen and women", and said intelligence and assessment "cannot be shared in full" with Parliament.

Russian military vehicles enter the Douma district in the eastern countryside of the capital Damascus of Syria, on April 14, 2018. Credit: Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images
Russian military vehicles enter the Douma district, Syria. Credit; Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The debate comes the day after Mrs May said it was "legally and morally right" for the UK to join air strikes against the Syrian regime to prevent "further human suffering".

The Prime Minister told MPs there was "clear evidence" the Assad government was behind the Douma chemical weapons attack.

Ahead of this afternoon’s debate, a former head of the army told Forces News there was “absolutely no need” for the Prime Minister to consult parliament before launching this weekend’s airstrikes.

General the Lord Dannatt said: "The longer standing precedent is that the Prime Minister of the day as the Head of Executive has the Royal Prerogative and therefore takes it on his or her shoulders the responsibility to launch the Armed Forces into a Conflict."

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