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Coffee House

What will Britain do to help the Yazidis? And will MPs get a say?

8 August 2014

2:29 PM

8 August 2014

2:29 PM

After President Obama announced air strikes against Isis and humanitarian aid drops to the Yazidis, British ministers have been clarifying the extent of their involvement in the response to the latest violence. Michael Fallon said this lunchtime that the UK government’s focus was on the humanitarian effort:

‘We welcome what the Americans are doing now to, in particular, to bring humanitarian relief, and to prevent any further suffering. But our focus is on assisting that humanitarian mission and using our military in support of the Americans in terms of refuelling and surveillance to underpin their missing and to add to it with food drops of our own.

‘Our focus is on assisting the Americans in this humanitarian effort, that’s what I reviewed with the Prime Minister this morning, that is what he asked us to take decisions on at the emergency meeting this morning, and that is what we are now offering in terms of specific support to the Americans.’

But there will be questions from MPs – whether they are generally in favour of intervention or not – about the full extent of the UK’s involvement in this latest action. Some may wish we could go further in assisting the US. Mark Pritchard, a Conservative backbencher with a keen interest in defence policy, tells Coffee House:

‘Any deployment of UK service personnel in support of military action is a serious decision. Therefore, the Prime Minister needs to give an early and detailed statement about the level of UK involvement and the associated military, diplomatic and political risks involved. If this requires Parliamentary scrutiny, then Parliament may need to be recalled at some point during the ongoing operations.’

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This point about scrutiny is important: it’s not just for votes that Parliament sits, but to examine and draw out details from ministers who’d rather not give those details or be examined. Those who say that recalling Parliament would be pointless and expensive have a good point if there is to be no real British involvement in this situation. But others might argue that it suggests we’ve given up on MPs having any relevance or influence.

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