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Military Action Overseas: Parliamentary Approval

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 2:27 pm, 17th April 2018

That is not correct. With the bombing raids on Libya, retrospective consent was given by this House; it was not sought in advance. That is the issue that goes to the heart of this matter. Yes, we have a flexible constitution, but it is not right to say that we have no constitution. The flexible constitution allows a Government to come to this House when they are considering certain types of action, when no secret information needs to be given out, and when there might be a long-term plan for an invasion or whatever there is. It also allows the Government the flexibility to act when times are urgent and business is pressing, and when the information is of the greatest sensitivity. That was why I made the point that it was right and inevitable that the Cabinet should be consulted, as that is where power rests, but it is absurd to suggest that the House of Commons could give its consent. In fact, the only way that the House of Commons can consent is by legislation, and then we would need to go to their other end of the Palace and ask their lordships as well. By the time we had passed a law saying that we could engage in conflict, the whole conflict would be over.

The issue is that the Armed Forces Act 2016 already covers this question, and that Bill was passed unanimously. This House gives confidence in the Government and controls supply. The armed forces cannot go to war not only if the Armed Forces Bill has not been passed, but if supply is not voted to allow the Army, Navy and Air Force to go about their business. That is where we have control every year over the actions of our military. We have it quinquennially and we have it annually, and we have confidence or not in the Government.

That is our correct and established constitutional situation. There are ways for the Opposition to deal with a Government of whom they do not approve, and that is through a vote of confidence. That they have not chosen to go down that route shows that the opposition is of a pacifist tone. That might be honourable, and it might be noble, but it is different from upsetting our constitution merely to entrench inaction.