‘This is not about regime change, the use of chemical weapons must stop, and UK must react to their use in Syria’.


James Gray MP and a member of the Joint Committee on National Security believes it is time for Prime Minister Theresa May to abandon caution and make the decision about the appropriate response to the alleged chemical attack in Douma-Syria. Gray believes Prime Ministers, in this case May, have all the resources to make the decision and be solely accountable.

Gray refers back five years when David Cameron asked the House of Commons to vote on a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta. He says “We must avoid the mistake we made in 2013, when MPs were asked to vote without the secret intelligence, legal advice or detailed military knowledge necessary to come to the right judgement. When you take a vote on warfare to the House of Commons it becomes a political issue, not a strategic or moral one.”

Gray says the current convention is a bit vague and he charges PM Tony Blair with altering British constitutional convention by insisting on Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq in 2013. Previously all wars had been fought on the decision of the then Prime Minister including WWII, Gulf WarI in 1990 and The Falklands in 1982. Gray continues “If Theresa May goes to the House of Commons to ask for a vote on Syria, she risks terrible consequences. We now have a hard-left-wingLeader of the Labour Party and a wafer-thin parliamentary majority. The vote would be ‘whipped’, and there is a real risk that it would be lost. And anyhow, asking for MPs to make the terrible decision to go to war in that way abdicates the PM’s responsibility for that kind of decision and emasculates Parliament’s ability to hold the Executive to account.”

“This is not about regime change,” says Gray “the point is that the use of chemical weapons must stop, and UK must react to their use in Syria.” Drawing a tangential comparison to the recent Skripalpoisoning, Gray suggests Russia is showing how powerful and threatening they are and contemptuous of the West. They are seeking a reaction. “In the face of these threats, we cannot say we are too frightened to do anything. We have to play our part in the humanitarian protection of the world. The decision should be with the person with the ability to make it, namely the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister gets it wrong, she has to live with that decision and I reserve the right as a backbench MP to question her decision and call for her head”.

In 2015 James Gray and Mark Lomas wrote a book on this subject, Who Takes Britain to War (reviewed by this reporter in The Sunday Guardian, 15 November 2014. Amongst other things, it advocates the Government introducing a British War Powers Act, which in essence would replace the now extinct Royal Prerogative with a Parliamentary Prerogative. “Such an act,”’ Gray explains “would establish the universal ‘Theory of Just War’ into British law; it would explicitly define the reasons for going to war, how war is conducted and ended”. Gray suggests the reason such a bill has not so far come to pass is because it constrains by law what the government can do. “Every pacifist organisation would have an opportunity to challenge the government in court on any aspect of any war. It would risk being not a matter for the Executive, nor for the Parliament, but for the courts.”

James Gray is the MP for North Wiltshire and Chairman of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust.

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