May under fire on role of Parliament
Ex-chancellor calls for cross-party group to study Westminster’s role in approving military action
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced cries of “shame” as he told Prime Minister Theresa May she was accountable to Parliament and not Donald Trump when it came to military action in Syria.
Senior Tory Ken Clarke called on Mrs May to establish a cross-party commission to look at Parliament’s role in approving military action.
The prime minister spent three hours and 10 minutes at the despatch box delivering her Syria statement and answering questions from MPs.
Speaker John Bercow said 140 backbench MPs questioned Mrs May during the marathon session.
Mr Corbyn said: “This statement serves as a reminder that the prime minister is accountable to this Parliament, not to the whims of the US president.
“We clearly need a War Powers Act in this country to transform a now broken convention into a legal obligation.
“Her predecessor came to this House to seek authority for military action in Libya and in Syria in 2015, and the House had a vote over Iraq in 2003.
“There is no more serious issue than the life-and-death matters of military action. It is right that Parliament has the power to support or stop the government from taking planned military action.”
Mr Corbyn was later successful in securing an emergency debate on the rights of Parliament to debate and approve military action by British forces overseas.
This will take place today.
MPs also supported an emergency debate application from Labour’s Alison McGovern (Wirral South), which allows them to consider the situation in Syria and the UK Government’s approach.
The debate will take place on Monday and last for up to three hours.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom was criticised after the government did not table its own debate on Syria, as she announced a changed timetable for parliamentary business.
She defended the move by saying the prime minister had answered questions for more than three hours, while there was further debate likely in the coming days.
SNP Commons leader Peter Wishart accused the government of its “usual shambles and chaos”.
He added: “What we need from this statement is this Leader of the House coming to this House to say that we’re going to get a full debate tomorrow on an amendable motion and then directly elected Members of Parliament get the opportunity to vote on behalf of their constituents.”
During the prime minister’s statement, Conservative former chancellor Mr Clarke said: “Once President Trump had announced to the world what he was proposing, a widespread debate was taking place everywhere, including many MPs in the media, but no debate in Parliament.
“So would she consider, once the immediate issues are over, a cross-party commission of some kind to set out precisely what the role of Parliament is in modern times in the use of military power against another state?”
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable also said the prime minister should have called for a vote.
Mrs May pointed to a written ministerial statement in 2016 which said the government would not put the convention to consult Parliament in law to retain the ability to protect the UK in unpredictable circumstances.
Parliament would hold her to account for the decisions taken, the prime minister added.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn secured an emergency debate on the rights of Parliament to debate and approve military action by British forces overseas.