Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Why don’t the people get a say on whether we should go to war?

As a result of the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan I got to thinking whether our fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’ could play a useful role before the country is taken to war.

The decision to deploy the Armed Forces in situations of armed conflict is a prerogative power taken by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Crown. Despite attempts to update this power in recent times this still remains the situation.

It is true that votes in the House of Commons have become more common place but the government of the day does not have to agree with or implement the result albeit they would be very unwise to ignore it.

1.     Afghanistan 2001 – The USA declared war after 9/11 on the 7th October 2001 with the follow up unanimous backing of UN Resolution 1386 on 20th December. UK troops were part of the coalition forces and there was no vote in parliament before their deployment.

2.     Iraq 2003 - The UK parliament voted to go to war in Iraq on 18th March 2003 by 412 votes to 149. The Amendment to allow more time for the UN to authorise the war was defeated by 396 to 217.

3.     Libya 2011 – A NATO lead forces began a military intervention of Libya on 19th March 2011 operating to UN Resolution 1973 voted by 10 with five abstentions.  David Cameron won the vote by 557 for and 13 against.

4.     Mali 2013 – No vote was taken before deploying military assets to Mali in support of France in January 2013.

5.     Syria 2013 – David Cameron lost the vote in 2013 by 285 to 272 to bomb Syria and decided not to take action

6.      Syria 2018 – Theresa May agreed to join France and the USA in bombing chemical weapon facilities in Syria without a vote in parliament.  

So, although a precedent has been set in the recent past a UK government does not have to seek a vote in the House of Commons before authorising military action.  

 Defining parliamentary approval for military action, in either a resolution
or legislation, in a way that provides Parliament with a meaningful role,
yet safeguards the Government and military’s capacity to act, is
paramount. Yet it is fraught with difficulties and potentially raises more
questions than it resolves. Government Ministers, MPs, commentators and
constitutional experts alike all have different expectations and different
opinions on what a resolution or legislation should achieve. This
dilemma also lies at the heart of the current convention and arguably is
one of the reasons advocates are pushing for a more formalised
solution. There are no right or wrong answers and possibly this circle will never
be squared. Achieving a solution acceptable to all will require immense
political will and as such, makes the continuation of the current
convention a much more likely prospect for the foreseeable future.  

However, having said all that the noticeable ingredient missing from all this is any thought that the people should have their say as and when applicable and appropriate. It is surely also ironic that we are now being asked to welcome Afghan refugees when we were never consulted about going to war in the first place. 

Our fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’ would allow for the people to raise an advisory referendum to express their views on any given military intervention if enough, as would always be the case, want a referendum.

The key point about our agenda is that a sovereign people could never be ignored and would always be able to have their views heard if they wished it. Decisions would never in future just be left to 650 MPs but would be open to the whole 47 million electorate should they want to use that power.

That is what real democracy looks like.




  1. It needs to be shown why either the people or MPs would make better decisions than the sitting prime minister.

  2. The decision is always very simple - dO we go to war or not?

    The people may not make a better decision and I'm not suggesting it shouldn't be left to the PM but the people deserve to have their say.