Military Action Overseas: Parliamentary Approval

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence) 2:49 pm, 17th April 2018

It is a huge privilege to follow Nick Boles, and it is great to see him in such fine form. I agree with almost everything that he said, although we can parse the toss on what happened in 2013. I certainly agree with what he said about the principle that our Government have the authority to make the decisions that were made last week. That authority rests with them. They have the authority, they have the justification, they have access to all the intelligence and the evidence, and they are duty bound to defend not only this nation, but national interests and the international standards with which this House agrees. So I agree most fundamentally that the decision rests with Government and that it is one for Government to make.

I am increasingly impressed by the principled position that I hear from Sir Vince Cable. I have not had so much contact with him over the many years, but I have listened carefully to his contributions in this Chamber since his return to Parliament. He cited 2013 and the principle of parliamentary approval in 2013, yet decries the fact that this Parliament did not approve of action. The consequence of our Prime Minister—charged with the defence of this nation and our interests and international standards—not seeking the comfort of parliamentary approval should be, some now argue, to put in a process and to remove that decision-making ability from her. That is fundamentally wrong. It would be wrong for this Parliament to remove that power from our Government on the basis of a decision that was the right one to take, and that was constitutionally and legally taken with the best advice available. If we all agree that it was the right thing to do, why should we believe that it is now appropriate to consider this House putting in place a legislative barrier that has the potential to stop the right decision being taken when it needs to be taken?

The title of this motion does not take us very far, and nor does the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. I have learned nothing more about what he actually wants to achieve from a war powers Act, but we should know this: it really matters not what this Parliament passes as a war powers Act, because if our action does not adhere to the seventh article of the UN charter, it is illegal and it would not matter if we had parliamentary approval or not. We either take action that adheres to the UN charter or we do not; we take action that is internationally legally justified, or we do not.

From looking at a brief history of the positions of the Leader of the Opposition, it is clear that the arguments he puts forward would have a much stronger imprimatur if he had ever believed it was appropriate to act against a monster or despot or dictator internationally. He has not done so; he refuses to do so, and a quick glance at history demonstrates that. When UN peacekeepers needed to be rescued from Sierra Leone, the Leader of the Opposition voted against; when we took action in Kosovo and Bosnia, the Leader of the Opposition was against those actions.