Theresa May and her cabinet unconstitutional over bombing Syria

15th April 2018 / United Kingdom
Theresa May and her cabinet unconstitutional over bombing Syria

By TruePublica: In a public backlash against British airstrikes in Syria, a desperate government is now attempting to regain the national narrative on whether the law or constitution has been violated.

“Air strikes on Syria were legally justified on ‘humanitarian grounds'”, government documents say. This is the same vernacular used for the tragedy that Blair and Cameron used to destroy the lives of millions in Iraq and Libya.

The BBC has run to the defence of the government in propaganda mode: “Downing Street has published its legal case for military action hours after Theresa May said she was “confident” the strikes carried out by the UK, France and the US had been successful.”

In the meantime, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the action as “legally questionable”.

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As one would expect, the UN Security Council rejected a resolution, which condemned “the aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic by the US and its allies”. This is because common sense does not and has not prevailed in the UN for decades. A resolution needs nine votes to pass and only Russia, China and Bolivia voted in favour.

 

In a further attempt to link the discredited Salisbury Novichok story to the bombing of Syria, Downing street drew a direct link with the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury, with the BBC crowing that Theresa May had said: “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”

Jeremy Corbyn said MPs should have been consulted before the strike. Party leaders including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Liberal Democrat’s Sir Vince Cable said MPs should have had a vote on the action – while Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood accused the government of putting UK security at risk.

 

Even ‘the establishment’ think Theresa May is wrong. Last Friday, Lord Alan West – a retired senior British Royal Navy officer – said he has strong reservations about taking allegations against Assad at face value, “because they don’t make much military sense”. He added:

“It seems to be utterly ludicrous for the military that is in the process of taking over an area to go and do something with chemical weapons, which will draw the wrath of the larger enemy down upon them…..If I was advising the opponents of Assad, I would be delighted to kill a few people there. Let’s face it, [the insurgents] don’t care if they kill women and children….We need to see incontrovertible truth about what has happened there and make a decision on that basis.” 

 

Katy Budge is a doctoral researcher in politics at the University of Sussex, and a former head of constitutional policy at the Cabinet Office. She wrote a blistering piece in the Huffington Post “Why It’s Categorically Untrue That The Constitution Allows Theresa May To Bypass Parliament On Syria.

Budge wrote: “On Wednesday night, I was shocked to hear the audience of The World Tonight informed that ‘there is no constitutional requirement for the Government to seek parliamentary approval [for UK military action in Syria], there is nothing in the constitution…’ This (fallacious) observation concluded a day of political manoeuvring and frenzied commentary provoked by US President Trump’s priapic tweet about missiles ‘coming nice and new and “smart”’. And perhaps, in that initial hysteria, without time to explore the constitutional complexities of the issue, the BBC could have been forgiven for presenting an ill-informed and superficial overview. But a few days later it is alarming that such a position continues to be repeated across news outlets, when it is categorically untrue.

 Such reports uncritically accept the line promoted by No.10 that the absence of a statutory requirement to consult parliament on military action equates to the absence of a constitutional requirement to do so. But our uniquely intricate (and, yes, sometimes impenetrable) uncodified constitution cannot be reduced to statute alone. Instead comprises a curious miscellany of Acts of Parliaments, court judgements and constitutional conventions.
 

The last of these – constitutional conventions – are often slippery, perhaps slightly old-fashioned, but nevertheless vital political customs that have evolved over time to provide a framework for the actions and operations of government. While many have been codified by Acts of Parliament, some remain ‘off the record’, such as the existence of the office of Prime Minister, and the customs that the Queen acts on the advice of her ministers and doesn’t overturn laws passed by Parliament. Such conventions often represent some of the most subtle, yet central, elements of the constitution. And while they may mature over time, they are rarely challenged or overturned. Instead, they are often fiercely defended, as demonstrated in 2015 by the Conservative Government’s bellicose insistence on the so-called Salisbury convention (that the House of Lords should not obstruct manifesto policies) in the aftermath of its defeat over tax credits.

 Importantly, The Cabinet Manual – described by gov.uk as ‘the ultimate user’s guide to government’ – recognises that such a constitutional convention exists in relation to consulting parliament on military action. It states that: ‘In 2011, the Government acknowledged that a convention had developed in Parliament that before troops were committed the House of Commons should have an opportunity to debate the matter.’ Since this statement, many a government minister and senior official have repeated a commitment to the convention (including the then Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood). And it was widely thought to have been consolidated in 2013 by David Cameron’s decision to respect the House of Commons vote against military action in response to a previous chemical attack in Syria. Indeed – in 2014 the current Business Secretary Greg Clark, and then Constitution Minister, told Parliament that the Cabinet Manual ‘should be updated to reinforce the importance and value of that convention by reference to the events of 29 August [2013]’.”

Thus the convention points to a parliamentary vote, but in doing so acts as an uncomfortable reminder of the defeat that David Cameron suffered over Syria four years ago. With an already restless and increasingly assertive Parliament, Theresa May is understandably keen to avoid her own parliamentary embarrassment over Syria. But it’s important in that context to recognise the Government’s position on the convention for what it is – one of convenience and political expediency, rather than constitutional integrity.

My concern is that if the current campaign of constitutional engineering continues unchallenged, this delicate constitutional settlement might be eroded by cheap, ill-informed talk and politically-motivated soundbites.”

 

This educated and well-informed opinion supports our view here at TruePublica that Theresa May is a de-facto dictator. There is hard evidence for this. The Independent, in writing about how the Tories are quietly sizing power under the guise of Brexit negotiations said: “It is a stunt that would have fitted in well in the world of Stalin or Lenin: So much for Parliament taking back control.” A quick Internet search reveals many articles stating the same.

If the Prime Minister no longer needs to seek parliamentary approval for war, that is confirmation that Britain is no longer a properly functioning democracy. In 2012, just two years after David Cameron and the Tories came to power, Democratic Audit the independent research unit based at the Public Policy Group in the LSE’s Government Department concluded that corporate power and unrepresentative politicians were leading Britain into an era where “democracy was in terminal decline.”

Its report findings noted that: “Britain’s constitutional arrangements are “increasingly unstable” with an unprecedented growth in corporate power, which the study’s authors warn “threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making”.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the report’s lead author said that “representative democracy is pretty catastrophically in decline.”

Theresa May has crossed a constitutional red-line and no-doubt will be punished at the local elections next month.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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