At the time of writing yesterday evening, our snap survey on whether or not the UK should intervene in the Syrian civil war had passed the 1,000 respondents mark, and has thrown up a very interesting result.
Party members, it turns out, support the principle that the Government should be able to intervene without the prior authorisation of a vote in the House of Commons.
Such a move would be entirely in line with the constitution, where power over foreign affairs are exercised by the Executive via the royal prerogative, and would be a restoration of the normal practice before Tony Blair set the precedent for getting Parliament’s permission in 1998 and 2003.
As with so many of his constitutional whimsies, it has not worked out well.
As MPs such as Johnny Mercer – and on the other side of the House, Wes Streeting – have pointed out, it is very difficult to ask the Commons to make a decision based on only a small portion of the information available to the Cabinet and the National Security Council. James Gray has also made the case on this website.
It also undermines Britain’s credibility on world stage when Parliament can pull the rug out from beneath the Government without warning – or even by accident:
The irony of the 2013 Syria vote: Labour didn’t expect to defeat Cameron and was surprised when he ruled out any military action.
— George Eaton (@georgeeaton) April 10, 2018
Nonetheless, it’s rare for any of Blair’s innovations to be so seriously challenged after the fact. Unfortunately, Theresa May might not feel as if she has the strength to antagonise a Commons in which she doesn’t command a majority, especially when it looks like the Democratic Unionists favour a vote.
However, our survey suggests that should she decide to press ahead, she will command the support of the Tory grassroots.