Syria bombing: Jeremy Corbyn calls for War Powers Act to limit government's ability to launch air strikes without asking MPs first


Jeremy Corbyn has called for a war powers act that would stop Theresa May from launching bombing raids without first consulting MPs.

The Labour leader said the prime minister should have strived for parliamentary approval before instigating UK involvement in yesterday’s air strikes on Syrian targets.

And he called for a proper debate in parliament on Monday, concluding with a vote on action in Syria.

Mr Corbyn has already issued a plea for a independent UN-led investigation of last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria.

“​I think parliament should have a say in this, and I think the prime minister could have quite easily done that,” Mr Corbyn told the Andrew Marr Show after America, Britain and France launched missiles and tornadoes aimed at reducing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. 

He added: “She took a decision some time last week that we were going to work with Macron and Trump in order to have an impact on the chemical weapons establishment in Syria.

“She could have recalled parliament last week – it is only the PM who can recall parliament – or she could have delayed until tomorrow when parliament returns. There is precedent over previous interventions when parliament has had a vote”.

The MP for Islington North, who also called for a war powers act in 2016, continued: “I think what we need in this country is something more robust like a war powers act so governments do get held to account by parliament for what they do in our name”.

In April 2016 ministers abandoned plans to introduce a war powers act that would have enshrined in law a commitment to gain parliamentary approval before deploying British troops in conflict.

Calls for a war powers act mounted after the military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. However, ministers decided that such a law would curb their freedom to act, make them susceptible to potential legal action, and result in their becoming entangled in arguments about the definition of training and combat missions.

In the US, the War Powers Act is a federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the country to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action.

Mr Corbyn has accused Ms May of “trailing after Donald Trump”. Condemning the attacks, he claimed they would make real accountability for war crimes less likely.

“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” he said. “This legally questionable action risks escalating further, as US defence secretary James Mattis has admitted, an already devastating conflict and therefore makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely.”

Ms May sidestepped a non-binding constitutional convention that dates back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by launching strikes without prior approval from parliament.

However, the PM insisted speed was essential and the action against Syria was in the UK’s national interest.

Ms May said the attacks were “right and legal” and “gave a very clear message to the regime”.

Allied air strikes were carried out in Syria in response to a suspected poison gas attack that led to the deaths of 40 people in the town of Douma near Damascus last Saturday.

The intervention is the largest so far by Western powers in the Syrian conflict, with more than 100 missiles launched at various targets. Labour has been opposed to a military strike on Syria since the chemical weapons attack on Douma. 

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, has warned the strikes will have “consequences”. Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed the attack would aggravate the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Leave a Reply