The revelation that British air crews have been engaged in bombing operations against ISIS in Syria for the last 10 months, in strict defiance of a Parliamentary vote two years ago prohibiting this, should be a matter where ministerial heads roll. The excuse given by the Prime Minister’s office that they were embedded with US forces and not operating under a British chain of command is risible. The vote in 2013 was explicit that there was not to be any British military involvement in the Syrian conflict. For Fallon as defence secretary then secretly to allow 20 British personnel, including 3 pilots, to take part in U.S.-led bombing missions against ISIS targets in Syria is direct defiance of a Parliamentary red line irrespective of whether British air crew were operating under U.S. or British command structures. This a very serious abuse of Parliament. If Parliamentary sovereignty is to mean anything, Fallon should stand down or be forced to resign.
It appears that Cameron himself was fully apprised of this manoeuvre. His spokeswoman confirmed that “the PM was aware that UK personnel were involved in US operations and what they were doing”. Her further comment that this was part of a joint training exercise are further weasel words to conceal the truth that British forces were taking part in flying US fighter jets on bombing missions in Syria. For a prime minister wilfully to defy an express Parliamentary decision in this manner is almost unprecedented. It is rare that Parliament seeks to pass a motion of censure on a prime minister, but the gravity of what has been revealed – a possible mission creep towards war for which there was no mandate – may justify this.
The accountability of the Executive (the government) to the Legislature (Parliament) has steadily been eroding for years. It has now reached the point where repeated questions in the Commons, both written and oral, for the last 9 months concerning British military involvement in Syria have received answers so evasive as to be tantamount to lying by saying it was confined to surveillance or air-to-air refuelling. As another affront to Parliamentary sovereignty it is deeply disturbing that the truth only came out, not as the result of a succession of PQs, but only after a freedom of information request from a pressure group (Reprieve). Until Parliament seriously threatens ministers’ survival when they deliberately mislead the House and secretly break an unequivocal parliamentary decision, this country is increasingly headed on the road to autocracy.