Prerogative vs Parliament: The question that the Government now faces.

A statement by the Editor:

‘On Saturday 14th March 2018, the U.S., France, and The United Kingdom launched missile strikes at alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria. Understandably, some of the information in this article has now changed. However, the article is based upon the premise of prerogative vs Parliament so, fundamentally, this article is still relevant and, therefore, I decided that it should still be published.’


Let us not deny that the horrendous images we have seen over the last few days has not struck at every single moral fibre in our bodies. We have seen images of hurt, images of pain, and, worst of all, images of death. It is horrid to think that, in this day and age, we as individuals attribute this as a normal day in the life of a Syrian civilian. It is beyond disgusting and we must act, but the argument is how?

There has been much talk of how the British Government should act this week. It is surprising how a news headline suddenly generates a vast horde of experts on the Syrian conflict. However, for the sake of our sanity, there will be no rant on such a topic, for now. At least we can agree on something and that is that Theresa May faces an extremely difficult choice and, to be honest, it is a choice that I would not want to make.

The British Government seems to be leaning to some form of military response through a coalition of partners, notably the USA and France. However, amongst the political parties in Westminster there is no unified agreement on this response. The problem that faces the Government is the major grumblings that a vote must be held before the Prime Minister is allowed to act. Firstly, let’s be clear and make keyboard warriors of all political persuasions aware that, fundamentally, the Prime Minister is not bound by any legal statute to seek a mandate by Parliament in order to deploy the British military. The power still rests through the body of customary authority and privileges known as the Royal Prerogative. Through Royal Prerogative, the Government of the day can declare war and deploy armed forces to conflicts abroad without the backing or consent of Parliament. 

Now, please be aware that I have just rolled my eyes at a considerable amount of you who are now pulling a face at this article. I am sure you are all going to reference Iraq, Libya, and Syria and respond with something along the lines of…’but a vote was held there so Royal Prerogative can go and suck it!’ 

Well, you would have teeny tiniest point there. Fundamentally, what defines the British Parliament is its ability to adopt practises through precedent. So, essentially, a strong political convention has now been set which the Government must now abide by. If we look at this realistically, there is nothing stopping the Government holding an emergency debate and giving Parliament a say on whether we deploy our armed forces. I mean, after all, what sort of democracy would we be if we allowed an outdated power to bypass democratic representation?

However, there are a few problems with this 15-year-old precedent that Tony Blair laid down in 2003. The first problem is the amount of information our elected representatives have at their disposal. Unless you are a member of the Privy Council then the information available to MPs is somewhat limited and without the full facts at their disposal how they can make an effective judgement when it comes to a vote on the issue of deploying troops?

The answer is they can’t, and I suppose the next question I could ask is whether you would like every Member of Parliament being given classified information? We might as well close down GCHQ, MI5 and SIS down now because nothing would be secret ever again.

The second point I would like to raise is how this precedent, essentially, diminishes our international influence if we had to seek a mandate from Parliament each time we needed to deploy our armed forces. The failed Syria vote was nothing short of a diplomatic disaster for David Cameron even if it was seen as a victory back home, and there will be few among us who did not feel a sigh of relief that Parliament decided to not intervene. However, the impact of this precedent now forces a Prime Minister to think twice before asking for a mandate. In doing so, the potential consequences could be that it will make future Governments bury their heads in the sand to horror that occurs in the world.

We are faced with a conundrum. Proceeding with airstrikes will not help the Syrian civilians who are fearing for their life every day and seeking a political solution through the United Nations is just as unhelpful. Just look at the composition of the United Nations Security Council and that will, essentially, answer that question for you. 

They say ignorance is bliss and I am inclined to agree with them. Writing this article has made me realised that since 15thMarch 2011, myself and others have carried on with life as normal. I whinge about work, I whinge about writing essays and i whinge about not getting my amazon delivery on time and being outbid on eBay. All the while hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in a conflict that most of them were forced into and have had no choice in avoiding. 

Yes, ignorance is bliss, it truly is!


Stuart is the Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of The Front Bench he is a student in International Relations and Politics and the University of Salford