The prime minister’s ability to send special forces on secret missions without a parliamentary vote should be constrained, Jeremy Corbyn has said, reiterating calls for a US-style war powers act.
The Labour leader said David Cameron had circumvented the need for a Commons vote to send regular British forces to war by deploying the SAS instead, and the loophole had been used to approve covert British military involvement or arms supply in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
“I’m very concerned about this because David Cameron – I imagine Theresa May would say the same – would say parliamentary convention requires a parliamentary mandate to deploy troops,” Corbyn said in an interview with Middle East Eye. “Except, and they’ve all used the ‘except’, when special forces are involved.”
Corbyn compared missions by the SAS in Libya to when the US sent military advisers to the south Vietnamese government in the 1960s before Congress was invited to vote on whether or not it should be involved in the Vietnam war.
“I think the parallel is a very serious one,” he said. “Clearly, Britain is involved. Either through special forces in Libya or through arms supplies to Saudi Arabia to the war in Yemen. And indeed by the same process to the supply of anti-personnel equipment that is being used in Bahrain by Saudi Arabia. So I think we have to have a war powers act that is much more watertight on this.”
He added that the Labour MP Graham Allen had produced “some very interesting proposals on a war powers act”, which he believes parliament should vote on. “Then it would be up to a future Labour government to bring it in. I would see it as very important. Doctrine must include military involvement, not regular forces because the special forces argument [drives] a coach and horse through the principle.”
Such an act should be the absolute minimum to come out of the Chilcot inquiry, Corbyn said. Asked whether he supported the families of soldiers killed in Iraq who are talking about taking a private prosecution of Tony Blair, he added: “I understand that they’re preparing that. I think it ought to be on the whole decision-making process. It wasn’t one person. There’s a whole series of stuff that Chilcot has exposed and I think they might end up changing the course of history in the way in which major political decisions are made in this country. We are moving away from executive power towards parliamentary power towards popular involvement. That’s got to be a good thing.”
The Labour leader also said he did not see a second EU referendum in the immediate future, and that a post-Brexit government should push for human rights clauses in European trade agreements with different countries. “We are incredibly selective on human rights issues in Britain. We sign up of course to the universal declaration, the European convention and we do have the arms export control committee in parliament, but we are actually very selective about this and we’ve done precious little about Saudi Arabia for a very long time.”
In April, ministers abandoned plans to introduce a war powers act, and Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, said he and the then prime minister Cameron did not want to be “artificially constrained in action to keep this country safe”.
On Sunday night, the Tory MP and former British army commander Col Bob Stewart said he “disagreed entirely” with Corbyn’s recent call. “You’ve got to give prime ministers the right to deploy our special forces when they think it’s crucial. They can justify it later,” the Mail reported Stewart as saying.
This article was written by Nadia Khomami, for theguardian.com on Monday 1st August 2016 11.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010